3 January 1999
Senior Wilde Sapte lawyer Judith Mayhew tells Sean Farrell why she's out to break law firms ruling dominance in the City.
Wilde Sapte lawyer Judith Mayhew is set to emerge as the third candidate standing against Ken Livingstone and Jeffrey Archer in the elections for mMayor of London. She already works 18-hour days, combining her role as Wilde Sapte's director of training and employment law and chairmanship of the Corporation of London's policy and resources committee, but what trouble is that for a woman who is described by colleagues at the corporation as "a rough, tough operator"?
Clearly a political animal - she ran to become the Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Hampshire North West in the 1995 by-election - Mayhew is on the verge of ending City firms' age-old dominance of the Corporation of London. Elected head of the corporation two years ago, she is the driving force behind reforming the voting system of the Square Mile's elected government.
A corporation colleague claims she can be abrupt with people: "The City is used to a softer approach." However, Mayhew display none of this alleged impatience as she explains the reasons for widening the City's business electorate beyond partnerships.
The City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, which passed its second reading in the House of Commons last Wednesday, will extend the right to vote to nearly 40,000 businesses, giving banks and other international companies in the City representation. At present, the partnerships of law and accountancy firms dominate the 15,000 business votes.
The change, she says, is essential for the City to maintain its position as the number one financial centre in Europe. To tackle competition from Frankfurt and Paris, the City needs its own local authority, says Mayhew. "The last election was the first for 80 years when no party was threatening to abolish us."
New Labour recently dropped its threat to break up the corporation. But the party's new-found support for the corporation is linked to reforming the voting system. "It is very important to justify having a separate local authority district for the City by having a strong business input," says Mayhew.
But what do the City's law firms feel about having their power in the corporation diluted? There has been "no adverse reaction", claims Mayhew. This, she believes, is partly because many firms will become limited liability partnerships over the next few years, and also because the changes will make the corporation "inclusive for the international clients that City law firms rely on for their business".
This inclusiveness is another element in competing with the City's European rivals. "We are going to bring that international client base into our City government. The mayor of Frankfurt has told me she is jealous, and says 'Only you [the City] are able to do this.'"
The Government's insistence that the system be changed has been welcomed rather than resented. "We had been looking at reforming our voting system for 30 or 40 years, but the Conservatives never gave us any parliamentary time", she says.
A colleague says that Mayhew made a point of dropping her Conservative activism when she took up her post. She says she enjoys a "very good relationship with the current Government".
Given the controversial nature of the existing mayoral candidates, observers say this "rough, tough operator" could be in with a good chance. The only question might be which party ticket she decides to take.