LONDON (Reuters) - The most famous Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington, immortalised in traditional British pantomimes, gave all his money to charity on his death nearly 600 years ago.
The latest incumbent of the 800-year-old office, David Wooton, is not advocating that for himself or his colleagues in the financial district, but he is suggesting some people could be more philanthropic.
“People who do some (philanthropy) could do more, and there are people who do little who can definitely do more,” Wooton, who will for 12 months be responsible for championing London’s financial district, told Reuters.
That is not to say the softly spoken 61-year-old corporate lawyer thinks the district, known as the City, is not already generous, pointing to the tens of millions of pounds donated by businesses and individuals each year to good causes.
But from his office at one of London’s grandest Georgian-era palaces, with its abundance of mahogany furniture and green and gold velvet furnishings, one of his first jobs has been to address an “Occupy” protest against banker bonuses and directors’ pay.
Camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral just metres from the lord mayor’s 250-year-old residence, the protest has raised questions about equality and wealth distribution and has drawn concerned responses from politicians, and financial and church leaders.
The demonstration copies others around the world, most notably in New York, and has spotlighted not only pay but also close ties between politicians, financiers and the Church and the role they play in society.
The job of Lord Mayor is one of the grandest in the British establishment, a ceremonial figurehead for the oldest continuous municipal democracy in the world, the City of London Corporation, which has jurisdiction over the capital’s financial centre.
His promotional role differs from that of the Mayor of London, currently Boris Johnson, who is responsible for the strategic governance of the whole of London, including policing, transport and planning, and who is elected by the public.
The City of London Corporation has not escaped the protesters’ wrath since they pitched their 200 tents outside London’s domed cathedral after failing in their original target, the London Stock Exchange.
Locked in a legal dispute with the corporation over an eviction order, they have questioned its transparency.
Wooton, sipping tea from a bone china cup, said it was healthy that the Occupy protesters were shining a light on issues that resonated with the public.
He said he disapproved of pay structures tilted towards the short-term, where too much was guaranteed regardless of performance and too much paid in cash rather than deferred, though he said progress had been made on improving this.
But he rejected a remuneration cap because it could lead to the City becoming uncompetitive.
“Persuade people to change or justify it (pay), because some pay rises will be justified, and some will not,” he said.
He also criticised the camp for being a “distraction” to the debate.
Wooton, a Methodist, rejected accusations that the City was immoral or unethical.
“The City’s harshest critics were in the City long before the protesters arrived,” he said.
Reporting by Avril Ormsby; editing by Elizabeth Piper