Hustings Meeting, 19th March 2018

Hustings at Carpenters’ Hall
19th March 2018

Transcript of address given by Richard Fleck

Good evening – and thank you for coming.

Six months on from the start of this campaign and it seems there’ll still be four candidates by June. I’m in no doubt that this contested election is a good thing for both the Livery and the City.

It’s important that the Livery can choose the two Sheriffs they want and that you have a genuine choice between well-qualified candidates. Contested elections for public office also help the City’s reputation.

Electoral rigour is particularly important this year. I don’t think I’m overstating things by saying we’re at a key moment in our history.

We all know that the destiny of our country for decades will depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Whatever your view, those who represent the City – led by the Lord Mayor and the Corporation – have a duty to the country to carve out a new and prosperous future. In my view, entrepreneurial risk-taking over two thousand years has made this City great – so why stop now?

At home, we face a political landscape that we haven’t seen since the 1970s.   The Livery’s franchise is under ever-closer scrutiny; the Sheriffs’ ability to contribute to the wider work of the Mayoralty at home and abroad will be critical. Now, more than ever, we need to help the public and politicians understand what we contribute to the economy and to society.

You know how Livery Companies promote their crafts and professions, support education, the arts, prisoner rehabilitation and so on. Here are two examples.

First, the Building Crafts College in East London – founded in Victorian times by the Carpenters Company.  Everyone I know who’s been there is blown away by the quality and range of the training and the scale of achievement.  This is the Livery making possible a wonderful “path to employability”.

Mentoring can really make a difference.  The Tallow Chandlers arranged for an RAF officer from 206 Reserve Squadron to go to a school we support in the Isle of Dogs to talk about opportunities in the Services.  One child – Lefty – was a routine absconder with a dysfunctional family.  As he listened, he got interested and began asking questions: how could he join, where could he sign up, and what qualifications would he need?  His teachers were convinced that he’d spotted, possibly for the first time, a realistic way in which he could change his life.

I don’t know about you, but it makes my heart sing every time I hear that we’ve helped even one human being on their way in life. Our Companies are out there doing just that, year in, year out.  We need to make sure that’s understood and appreciated.

What about the City ?

It’s tempting to make the points which the media rarely quote: 2 million people employed in Financial and Professional Services, £70 billion contributed to the Exchequer. But these numbers make many people’s eyes glaze over.  Better perhaps to say that our sector pays for half the government’s spending on health or four fifths of the education budget.

There’s a lot at stake.

So I believe it’s essential – politically, socially and economically – that we promote the Livery and the City. To wait, will be too late.

And that means electing a team – including the Sheriffs – who can really support and represent the Livery, the City and our professional expertise both at home and abroad.

All of the candidates for election as Sheriffs are Liverymen of longstanding.  Each has been Master of their Company. All have track records in philanthropy. All four are capable of promoting the Livery.

So why should you choose me?

I hope you’ll read my CV. You may hear me described as a corporate lawyer. I am a lawyer – but we’re all formed by our experiences.

Mine include my first case: the Rolling Stones drug trial.  Later I fought a tragic extradition case for a 17 year old girl caught up in US political machinations.  I worked with Jim Molyneaux on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, learning about the emotionally-charged Irish question. You’ll see that I’ve also done a great deal of dispute resolution. I’m sure the potential relevance is obvious.

No qualification prepares you for every situation. But they do prepare you to be open to different points of view, behaviours and cultures. And above all, to work with them.

For example, I’d set up a new office in Japan for my law firm.  I got an unexpected email from Mitsui – one of our major clients – saying that, because of something that had occurred, they would not instruct us again.   Someone who understood Japanese culture told me that Mitsui were giving me a chance to put things right.  He advised me to go there rather than pick up the phone.  So – against the protests of my senior partner – I went to Japan for a 25 minute, apparently inconsequential conversation and then flew back. Mitsui became one of our top global 10 clients.

So I’m not a dry old lawyer, immersing myself in M&A contracts. I have lived, and loved my life, as a developer of businesses and of people.

Working with young people has kept my feet on the ground.  One of my great loves is the Adventure Playground movement. I used to take youngsters from North Kensington on camping trips, one to Hastings.  I remember to this day the excitement of a little boy who had never seen the sea before.  I have a photo of him trying to fight the waves – a sort of latter day King Canute.  That memorable trip came to a rapid end when three boys started letting down the tents of other campers.  We had to leave hurriedly!

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is how vital it is to be able to operate effectively, even when you don’t have a brief. Whether it’s in a business relationship, or chasing scallywags running around a campsite at midnight, it’s always the question you’ve never thought of that makes or breaks the situation. And it’s the ability to respond in the right way, on the spot, that makes or breaks the other person’s confidence in you.

The civic team for 2018-19 is going to carry a heavy burden of responsibility for delivering the best possible outcome for the City, the Livery and the country. This is not business as usual.  This is a different sort of Shrieval election.

As I’ve said – all the candidates are decent people, well-established in the Livery and with their own business experience.   But is that sufficient right now?

I invite you to consider not just who is good enough for the job of Sheriff, but who could the Lord Mayor best call upon to share the load, and to pick up specific assignments or areas of work.

You have the power to choose.

I want to put my experience with business and people to work, for the benefit of this great, ancient City and Livery, growing our future. With your support, I hope and believe I can.

Thank you.