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Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

City elections

Andrew Cryan
The Politics Show
BBC London

The Labour Party has launched an organised campaign for elections to the City of London Corporation for the first time in its history.

City of London
The City of London - election time for the square mile

On 16 March, thousands of residents who live in the ancient City of London will have the chance to vote.

The City of London Corporation is one of the strangest government organisations, possibly in the world.

It has accumulated ancient rights and privileges through a rich history, stretching back further than the House of Lords, House of Commons and Church of England.

But other than Dick Whittington, most Londoners would struggle to name any of the Lord Mayors, Aldermen and Common Councilmen who have run the Corporation through the centuries.

The Corporation's representatives are all independents and traditionally the major parties do not field candidates.

But this time something rather different is happening - the Labour Party has decided to contest them.

Politics with a twist

The Corporation is not technically a local authority - over the years it has evolved to do three things.

It looks after the square mile like a local council might, but with a twist - including its own police force.

It is charged with underpinning the City's financial interests and also running special projects across London.

Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath - run by the Corporation

Hampstead Heath is a good four miles from the City of London, but it is owned and run by the Corporation, as are other parks across the capital, such as Highgate Woods and Epping Forrest.
But it is not just green spaces. It also has hundreds of units of social housing on the books and run three City Academies, all outside the square mile.

It even runs the animal reception at Heathrow Airport.

These all help make the Corporation the unique body that it is.

Another difference is its voting structure.

It is the only local government area in the UK where businesses have a vote and not just local residents.

Fifteen thousand of the total come from business and 6,500 from local residents.

It is a system designed to reflect the fact that only 9,000 people live in the square mile, compared with 340,000 who work there.

Independent representatives

Representatives are unpaid and are all independents - but that could be about to change.

Tomorrow, Saturday 14 March, 2009, sees elections for the so-called Common Councilmen - or at least elections of a sort.

Alternative candidates are only challenging in half of the wards.

In those where they are, the Labour party has organised to contest them for the first time in the party's history.

Labour candidates say that they want to give voters a choice and that residents can be overlooked in favour of the business lobby.

Critics, however, say party politics will harm the Corporation, hampering its ability to work closely with the government of the day who might well belong to a different party.

Where the City's voters stand on the issue will be decided on Monday 16 March.

Watch the Politics Show on BBC One at 1200 GMT on Sunday.

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