Why Party politics is best kept out of the City of London Corporation

The vast majority of the 100 Common Councilmen and 25 Aldermen who make up the City’s Court of Common Council declare themselves as ‘independent’, even if quite a few of them are signed-up members of political parties. And for the purposes of their role in the City Corporation, they are indeed independent – often fiercely so. The advantage of this is that each issue which arises is discussed on its merits; alliances among members are of course formed, but these will change depending on the issue at hand. In my previous stint as a Common Councilman, there were many members with whom I would not agree politically, with a capital ‘p’, with whom I do not share a ‘worldview’, but with whom I could work in full accord and effectively in order to address some matter of local concern, from roadworks to almshouse maintenance to oak processionary moth. There was never any question of a ‘party line’, a sense that because A did not agree with B about, say, the benefits of laisser faire capitalism, B could not expect support from A when advocating for traffic lights to be installed at a dangerous junction.

In these days of fragmented Politics, with many people feeling disenfranchised – unable to support the manifesto of any political Party in its entirety – should not more local councils go the way of the City Corporation and embrace independence for its elected members? Rather than the City Corporation going the way of a tired old system in the way the City Labour Party seems to want it to?

Independence has its costs – particularly at election time, when you don’t have an army of Party volunteers to help stuff your envelopes and accompany you in your canvassing. But it’s still worth fighting for.

Road safety in the City – some thoughts of a sight-impaired pedestrian

Road safety is an issue of particular concern to me as a person with a ‘hidden disability’. You wouldn’t know to look at me that I have a sight problem – and, in this, I’m one of many, judging from my fellow outpatients in the Eye Hospital’s waiting areas. But my long-term condition of glaucoma and a recent sudden – and, I hope, temporary – deterioration of vision in my right eye means I have lost some peripheral vision and in consequence don’t always see cyclists fast approaching on my right side. So I get very nervous at those ‘shared space’ crossings, or when negotiating a two-way cycle lane – while to the approaching cyclist I look like any other pedestrian, able to react quickly and get out of the way if necessary.

My point here is not to invoke special pleading for myself, but to try to increase awareness that we all need to take greater care – both of ourselves and of other people – when negotiating our crowded and fast-moving City streets and walkways.

We shouldn’t take risks with our own or others’ safety – by crossing when the lights are on red, whether pedestrian or cyclist, or by ignoring cycle lanes or cyclists’ priority areas if we’re driving a motorised vehicle.  But, equally, in order to lessen risk-taking behaviour, traffic planners need to implement systems that cater to users’ actual needs and behaviour, rather than basing layouts and traffic-light phasing on unrealistic expectations. It is maddening to stand waiting for the pedestrian lights to change to green when you can’t see the reason for them being on red. There’s been a recent trend to remove the kind of traffic lights that enable the pedestrian to see what the drivers and cyclists can see, and this seems to me to be a mistake. It may make a junction look less cluttered, and planners may want pedestrians to stand waiting obediently for no apparent reason, but in real life we like to make our own minds up, using all the available evidence. And people take risks when they’re impatient, when the indications are unclear, or when they don’t believe the ‘stop’ message being given to them.

So traffic planners need to take more account of pedestrian behaviour and cater to it, rather than always trying to dictate it. They need to take account of desire lines; they need to make it possible for pedestrians to get across a whole intersection without having to run; and they need not to tell us we can’t go when we manifestly can.

And all those of us who use the roads and pavements need to look out for one another a bit more, and remember that a minute lost in waiting or in slowing down is better than a life lost through an avoidable accident.

Why vote for me in the Castle Baynard by-election?

VR photo #3

  • I have a track record of achievement from my earlier period as a Councillor in the City (for the Ward of Farringdon Within from 2011 to 2017). Those achievements include:

¨      Working with fellow Common Councilman Henrika Priest (a current member for Castle Baynard) to make life better for residents in Carter Lane and its environs by getting licensed premises to respect the terms of their late-night licences, agreeing MoUs between licensees and residents, and facilitating effective two-way communication.

¨      For several years I chaired and helped organise a Community Police Forum, involving representatives from the Ward policing team and residents and workers from the three adjacent Wards of Castle Baynard, Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without. Although the shape of Ward policing has changed since then, I will, if elected, seek to reinstate regular meetings of this Forum, in order to ensure effective face-to-face communication between the City of London Police and the communities they serve.

¨      As Chairman of the Hampstead Heath Management Committee, getting the City Corporation to listen to local feeling and to reverse its policy on new café leases – see https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/apr/10/cafe-serves-another-day-protest-hampstead-heath-benugo – and working with officers to develop a better system of genuine and effective consultation.

¨      Working with residents and business owners to prepare objections, based on solid planning grounds, to mitigate the negative aspects of major developments in the City and improve overall schemes wherever possible.

¨      Being Chair of  Governors of the City Academy Hackney, a school which is achieving some of the best results in Hackney and which is justly proud of the safe and stimulating environment it provides for its students.

¨      Overseeing the successful resettlement of residents at a sheltered housing scheme (Mais House), prior to its redevelopment to provide more units of affordable, general needs, housing.

  • Having been a Common Councilman, including being a Committee Chairman, means that I can start acting effectively on constituents’ behalf as soon as I am elected. I know who to go to within the City of London Corporation to get residents’ and workers’ voices heard and I don’t have to negotiate a steep learning curve; but neither will I make unrealistic promises.
  • I work as Clerk to a Livery Company, the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants, based at College Hill near Cannon Street Station – so I understand what it’s like to work and move around in the City, and am close at hand.
  • I know the Ward of Castle Baynard well from having represented its neighbouring Ward of Farringdon Within for 6 years, and from having worked closely with several existing Castle Baynard Councillors.
  • I’m also a writer and historian (specialising in both Russian and London history) which has given me plenty of experience in public speaking and in presenting an argument succinctly and persuasively. (You may have heard me recently on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives, for instance, talking with Matthew Parris and Barbara Stocking about the life of Catherine the Great.)
  • I’m also a good listener. I believe the best results are achieved through mutual respect and a willingness to understand other points of view, while not being afraid to express, and stand by, one’s own.

The by-election to elect one Common Councilman for the Ward of Castle Baynard will take place on Tuesday 9th October at the Shoe Lane Library, Little Hill House, Little New Street, London EC4A 3JR, from 8am to 8pm.

On the day before the election, Monday 8th October, at 6pm, a Ward Mote will be held, also at the Shoe Lane Library, when electors will be able to ask questions of the candidates.

[Promoted by Virginia Rounding of 4 College Hill, London EC4R 2RB]

My friend Walter Mildmay


what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead …
[T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding]

Mildmay, in the dark you look ornate
but barely comprehensible, and so dead;
the tokens you’ve chosen to be remembered by
far less eloquent than the naked Smalpace bodies.
Your heavy marble out of place amongst the stone:
you intended to impose.

But now you know – if you know anything –
that evidence of the world’s approval
counts for nothing after death.
It is your soul that matters now,
not how many kings and queens you served
or colleges you founded.

And since you know, and cannot even answer back,
your boasts reveal unguessed humility.
I recognise you now: we’re kindred spirits.
Instead of shields, I’d spread my poems round a monument,
listing where they’d all appeared, the prizes won:
I’d never be content.

You meant to brag, show off, belittle me;
but wiser dead than you ever were alive,
we’ve had a conversation. You’ve reminded me
how trivial is the heaping up of honours,
of how success slips through our fingers
like the dust we must become.


©Virginia Rounding, 1996.

[First published in Awaiting an Epiphany, 1997]


I was first elected to the Court of Common Council as a member for Farringdon Within in a by-election in March 2011, and was re-elected for a four-year term in March 2013. I am now seeking re-election for a further four-year term.

There are 8 seats in Farringdon Within (it’s a large Ward), and 15 people contesting them. So what makes me stand out as worthy of your vote? In no particular order:

• I’ve been around long enough, but not too long. You need a bit of a track record to get taken seriously at Guildhall and to begin to exercise some influence on committees (where the decisions get made). But if you have too long a track record, you can get stale (and people stop listening to you). After my six years on the Court – and as a chairman of a committee and of a sub-committee – I’m at the right stage to be really useful over the next four years.
• I have a track record of working with residents to bring about positive change and to avoid the worst effects of late-night licences, multiple road works, disruptive developments, inadequate parking enforcement, and crowded streets and pavements. I don’t make false promises and can’t work miracles, but I do know how to make effective representations to planning and licensing committees.
• One of the things I’m proudest of in my last four years as a Councilman is having successfully challenged the City of London Corporation’s official line over the café leases on Hampstead Heath (I’m currently chairman of the committee that oversees its management). I turned the mood at an initially acrimonious public meeting – see this piece in The Observer – by agreeing that the Corporation had got it wrong on this occasion, and that we had not consulted properly. Since then we have been doing far more listening and working much better with all our stakeholders. Spending time on the management of the Heath and other North London Open Spaces may seem a far cry from the concerns of Farringdon Within – though I hope all residents and workers in the City do sometimes manage to get up to the Heath – but the way I have steered this committee through some choppy waters does demonstrate that I’m an independent voice, can get things done, and am not afraid to take a stand.
• Another thing I’m proud of is having been Chair of Governors of The City Academy Hackney. I take no particular credit for the fact that my chairmanship happened to coincide with the most spectacular GCSE results achieved by our students, but it still gives me great pleasure to think that I may have made some contribution to improving the life-chances of young people in an area of deprivation in a neighbouring borough.
• The other aspect of the City Corporation’s activities I’ve been most involved with over the last few years is the management of its social housing estates. (There are two in the Square Mile, and ten others spread over six London boroughs.) This has included working on a programme to build 700 new homes, as a small contribution to helping solve the capital’s housing crisis.

It will be clear by now that much of what Common Councilmen get involved in – if I’m at all typical – is only indirectly related to the concerns of the people who elect them. This can be a problem, and there’s no point denying it by pretending at election time that one’s interests are narrower than they actually are. The Corporation is more than a local authority – it has irons in a lot of fires – so when you decide who to vote for, you may want to consider more than who will best represent your personal concerns about life in the Ward but also think about who shares your wider concerns for the future of our capital city.

A few things about me:

• I am Clerk (three days a week) to the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants, with an office in College Hill (near Cannon Street station);
• I’m also a freelance editor and proofreader, and have been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art;
• I have been involved at the church of St Bartholomew the Great, as singer, server and PCC member (not all at once) since 1987, and am currently the Parish Clerk;
• I’m an author – of history – and have a book coming out in April about the martyrs burnt at the stake in West Smithfield in the mid-sixteenth century;
• I’m not standing as part of a ‘slate’ as I feel they lack transparency, and would rather speak for myself.

I would very much like to be given the opportunity to make a further contribution to the life of the City of London, and to continue to be an independent and effective voice for the people of Farringdon Within, for the next four years. If you are an elector, please use 1 of your 8 votes to vote for me.

Produced and promoted by Virginia Rounding, of 4 College Hill, London EC4R 2RB

How to get a literary agent (or not)

I’ve just responded to an aspiring author on this topic, and thought it was worth sharing my advice (such as it is) more widely. Here’s what I told him:

Here are a few thoughts based on my own experience of getting publishers/agents to be interested in my work.

It’s always a struggle, as you have clearly already found out! What we as writers find fascinating – and it’s generally obvious to us why we wrote, or are writing, a particular book – often seems to leave the potential publisher or agent cold.

What they are always looking for is what they call a ‘hook’ – by which I suppose they mean both: what will reach out and ‘grab’ the reader, and what can they ‘hang it on’ when they’re describing the book to others? While we, the authors, are wondering what will engage a publisher, they are in turn thinking what will booksellers (i.e. the buyers in book stores etc.) respond to. And unfortunately, our expectations often differ, in that authors tend to think in terms of being original, doing something no one has ever done before, whereas the booksellers (at least as perceived by publishers’ marketing departments) want the tried and tested, something familiar, something ‘like’ something else, so that they know where to put it on the shelves. Sounds stupid, but I’ve had that kind of response so many times.

What we somehow have to try to do is achieve both those things – be different, and the same, simultaneously.

So, in a covering letter and synopsis, what ideally should come across is that your book just had to be written, that you are the person to write it, that, yes, it is original but at the same time it can be ‘placed’. Which successful authors/books is it in line with, which existing audiences will it appeal to? Does it have some particular relevance to world events now? To ‘entertain and educate’ is too vague. There are millions of books already doing that – or trying to – so why is yours especially worth reading? Why wasn’t it enough for you to read other people’s books, come to that? If you can give convincing answers to those kinds of questions, you may be on the way to being heard.

Then, once you’ve got something you’re happy with and believe ought to convince others, the only other thing to do is not to give up. Pick an agent that deals with your kind of topic and, when they reject you, try the next on the list and keep going!

Good luck…

Poem: A baptism

Brompton Oratory, a hot lunch-time in July,

a baby being received into the Catholic Church

and Catholic upper-crust society;

dressed-up, a group stands round the font.

Otherwise the building’s almost empty, save a

scattering of oddballs dotted round the nave,

the occasional stray tourist fleeing from the sun.


A little girl in blue and white-striped dress

escapes the cluster of family and friends.

She patters down the aisle towards the wardrobe-like

confessionals – archaic Wendy-houses –

which lure her to explore their dark insides;

drunk with happiness, she crawls along a pew;

ecstatic – the Oratory one unimagined playground.


Behind her plods the solemn uncle.

Determined not to make a sideshow of himself,

he doesn’t chase – but holds himself on guard

till the moment she stands still. She totters,

absorbing wonder, dizzies herself with space…

He scoops her up, bears her back towards propriety –

the serious expectations of family and Church.


Virginia Rounding


[Published in Ironing the hankies: a selection of 20 poems, Pikestaff Press, 1999]