The Lord Mayor, PM, Financial Literacy & Men In Breeches.

Last night, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall. Filled with the political and financial elite, dressed up to the tens, it was a fascinating evening, and like slipping back into history at points. It’s a very formal do to celebrate the appointment of the new Lord Mayor (the 681st) and end of the last one’s term.

Financial Literacy

I was delighted to hear in his speech, that the new Lord Mayor of the City of London (not Boris, he’s the Mayor of London, which is different) has chosen financial literacy as his theme. As well as working with City employees, they want to send businesspeople into schools to help with financial literacy. A worthy aim, and good the PM was there to listen.

Having given a speech for the National Association of Credit Unions, who are also doing great work on financial education, the other day, and being bombarded by others with the same valiant aim via The MSE Charity – it’s incredible how many people are trying to push the same agenda. Yet even more astounding is the fact that while everyone recognises how worthwhile it is, blinkered politicians still DON’T introduce compulsory financial education, or even commit to introducing it in schools.

As a nation we educate our youth into debt when they go to University, but never about debt. This, combined with the growth of home ownership so people get mortgages, and easy access to credit, has helped rid debt of its stigma. Yet to allow this to happen without educating people on the hows and whys of borrowing is criminal. Not much surprise then we’re second to the USA in the world cup of domestic debt – and both economies are in trouble.

Men in breeches

The invite to the dinner was very specifically White Tie, which as I learned means the equivalent of a morning suit at night (see the pic at the end). Yet the Lord Mayor and Aldermen dress in breeches, plus there are guards in (I’m guessing) 17th century pikemen’s uniforms, and men in gold braid playing trumpets before each toast and announcing special arrivals.

Passing the historic guards, I walked into the grand reception hall to find I was on the list of people being announced. After “Mr. Martin Lewis” was called out, I did the shaking hands thing with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, then realised I had half an hour before dinner and didn’t know a soul! Not only that, but the average age was considerably higher than my own mere 36 years, so I felt a bit like a little boy.

Thus, I resorted to that ‘walking round as if you’re searching for someone specific thing’ to pass the time and not look too conspicuous. In the end a kindly Lady (literally a ‘Lady’ I believe) took pity and started talking to me. Turns out she’s a CAB volunteer and knew who I was.

An amazing venue, like dining in the 17th Century

As you enter the Guildhall, you’re transported back in time. There are towering stone arches high overhead, large marble statues at the sides, decorated crests adorning the ceiling, and huge rows of tables with solid gold jugs arranged on each one.

I was sat between one of the Lord Mayor’s chaplains, and a Major who is the Crown Equerry (in charge of the Queen’s horses). Opposite was the LM’s Chief of Operations, and the Major & Reverend’s wives. Down the row was a man who’d been on the Executive of the National Union of Students when I’d been president of my university, meaning a chat about old times ensued.

Quite soon, the conversation was flowing, and I relaxed for the first time in the evening. The Major’s life is fascinating; he left the army and now effectively manages the Queens non-racing horses, a big job with a large staff. Mrs Major, who works for a Children’s Charity, is on this site most days (if you’re reading this, hello). The chaplain was discussing the interrelation of money and theology and he and his wife were firm supporters of the Citizens’ Wage concept.

Then it was time for the speeches. The shock intro is huge timpani drums being bashed large and loud, followed by the two quartets of military trumpeters on either side blasting out. Curiously, in each of the trumpeter foursomes, one is in charge, and dictates the notes and timing to the others by moving his trumpet up and down while playing. They preceded every speech and every toast. Plus there’s a slow clap as the livery officers parade round the room. I didn’t realise such formality still existed.

The Lord Mayor spoke, then the PM, the Archibishop of Canturbury, the Late Lord Mayor (no he’s not dead, that’s what they call last year’s; after that he becomes the ex-Lord Mayor) and finally the Lord Chancellor (Jack Straw). It was interesting to hear the oratory in person. In many ways the Archbishop trumpted the lot, coming across both witty and profound. Gordon Brown was more impressive in the flesh than I’d expected; perhaps buoyed by his recent poll upsurge.

Martin Lewis - Slightly embarassed in mse towers before the banquet
Slightly embarassed in mse towers before the banquet

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