On Saturday, the City of London was closed off for the Lord Mayor's Show. A big parade followed by fireworks over the Thames.
Just to be clear, this isn't for the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who is elected by Londoners.
This is for the Lord Mayor, a guy called Charles Bowman. He doesn't represent the whole of London. He represents the City of London Corporation - aka the financial district.
It amazes me that a big parade in aid of finance is something that the people of London can get behind. Which is why I commend whoever does the PR on the Lord Mayor's show. They manage to make it totally unclear what the whole thing is about. The BBC covered it for 80 minutes and barely mentioned what the Mayor actually does.
You can see how the Beeb got distracted. There is something surreal about the whole show. It's a bizarre mix of military marching bands and sheep. The Mayor comes in on a big gold carriage, like Cinderella. Cinderella of the City. He really does get to go to the ball, if by ball we mean he gets to accompany the Prime Minister on all international trade visits. This means he has the same or greater status than a cabinet minister, except he's not representing the public, he's representing financial services.
If you are wondering who elects the Mayor, it's liverymen. Liverymen are members of the old trade bodies of the City of London. Most of these started in the medieval days. So, if you were a wool trader, and you came to the city, you would join a guild with the other people doing that trade. You got to call yourself something cool. You were no longer just a wool trader, but a member of 'The Worshipful Company of Woolmen'.
All this stuff sounds like a lot of fun. Trouble is, the parade focuses on the companies like the Woolmen and ignores the ones where the history is less fluffy. Because the wealth of London didn't come from wool. It came from the Empire. While the worst abuses of imperialism, like slavery and the colonies, were far away - the money flowed back into the City of London.
When we think of some of the darkest periods of history, like slavery, we focus on the person holding the gun or the whip. But follow the money. Slavery needed a bank to channel the funds, firms to insure the boats, lawyers to represent the traders - the list goes on. These institutions were all based in the City of London, and I'm amazed just how many of them are still around.
I've come to agree with the view presented by Tony Norfield that London's role today as a big financial centre is an extension of its imperialist past. As a country we like to pretend that our role in foreign affairs today is benevolent, that we are helping former colonies to develop. This isn't the reality. Look at where the money flows. For every $1 that goes out in aid, $24 flows the other way from East to West.
There are various financial tricks that enable this to happen. The one in the headlines now is tax avoidance. The leak from the Paradise Papers may have come from Bermuda but note how many tax havens are former British Colonies. The City of London Corporation sits at the centre of them all which Nicholas Shaxson describes as an 'offshore island inside Britain'.
If you looked really hard you might have spotted some evidence of this at the parade. One of the most recent livery companies to form is called the 'Worshipful Company of Tax Advisors'. You could also check out the track record of the firm that the new Mayor is a senior partner at - PricewaterhouseCoopers. This is a company that has been described as promoting tax avoidance on an 'industrial scale'.
And to me, the Lord Mayor's show promotes reality avoidance on an even larger scale. Avoidance of our past. Which has led to avoidance about the present and how this country continues to make money today.
Call me a party pooper, but I think this country should find something better to celebrate than finance, no matter how good the fireworks display they put on.