At the height of the debates about public statuary in London and who should be torn down, I happened to come across a large statue in a new public square just behind the new Tower Theatre of someone I didn’t recognise:-
Who was it ? I looked at the inscription. The answer was Sir Simon Milton, Deputy Mayor of London, 2008 to 2011. It rang a bell with me because I remembered another recent portrait bust on a public building in Piccadilly, in which the background of City Hall is made to look – quite convincingly – like angel’s wings. It’s by a stone carver called Alan Micklethwaite and by the standards of modern stone carving is, in my view, rather successful. It is also of Sir Simon Milton:-
So, I looked him up. I hadn’t really registered what a key figure he had been in Westminster politics and later at City Hall, but by chance I had come across Ian Greer in the 1990s who ran the public relations firm that Milton worked for then. It got caught up in the cash-for-questions scandal and acted for Mohammed Al Fayed. So, I started trying to figure out why he has been so widely commemorated. The answer seemed to be that he was a hero of London property developers because he had been so incredibly liberal in giving them permission for new property developments and they were going to miss him now that he was no longer at the helm. Boris Johnson was elected Mayor on a platform of reducing the freedoms which Ken Livingstone had introduced to London’s planning. But, as seems to be a pattern, once in office, he did the opposite. New buildings boomed all over the place. I have not sought to discover how much hospitality Milton accepted from property developers whilst he was at City Hall, but I remembered that his partner, Robert Davis, who I liked, stood down from chairing the planning committee at Westminster when it was discovered that they had had Christmas lunch at the Ritz paid for by a property developer. It was always said that Ian Greer introduced the culture of brown envelopes into British politics and it has made me wonder exactly what is the relationship between London property development, local planning committees and lunches at the Ritz.
Anyway, I regard it as intriguing that Sir Simon Milton should be the most commemorated person of our times and have written about him in this month’s edition of The Critic, now available online (see below):-