Saturday, 5 May 2012

Doncaster Shows Rejecting a Mayor is Easier than Abolishing One

It may have been the endorsement of Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis, or the prospect of Labour's appalling "eager diva" Liam Byrne standing as candidate, that swung the vote, but Birmingham was one of a number of cities that voted in local referenda to reject the idea of directly elected mayors. Nottingham, Manchester, Coventry, Bradford, Wakefield, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Leeds all made the same decision as the people of Birmingham, with only Bristol voting in favour (with a turnout of only 24%). No wonder Liverpool City Council, unlike other cities, took the shameful decision to do away with consulting local people and plough ahead anyway.

Hopefully, the results from Thursday, which mirror the 25 out of 38 earlier referenda that had already voted against the concentration of power into one person's hands, will fatally undermine the Tories' idea of a 'Boris in every city'. However, there was one result - in Doncaster - that provides an important reminder to those of us, like many residents of Newham, who already have a directly-elected Mayor and would gladly be rid of him.

Doncaster seemed ripe for change: it was officially classified as a 'dyfunctional authority' by the Audit Commission, which criticised the English Democrat mayor Peter Davies and senior councillors for political in-fighting and placing their political objectives above the needs of local people. In 2010, the then Labour government intervened to take control of the town,  appointing three commissioners to oversee a recovery plan. You would think that in those circumstances, the referendum on abolishing Doncaster's mayoral system would be worth a flutter on a 'no' vote. Instead, there was a decisive 62% of those who voted choosing to keep the current system.

This decision may reflect a certain bloody-mindedness by Doncaster's electorate about the imposition of controls by central government but what I think this also proves, as I have argued before, is that managing to secure a new referendum in Newham to rid ourselves of Sir Robin Wales' fiefdom is not nearly enough. A successful 'no' campaign in any subsequent referendum will have to argue for something far more radical than a return to the way things were back in 2001 or it will fail to inspire people to get out and vote.

In a posting in January, I made five initial proposals for what that radical agenda might look like. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in comments to this post.

1 Comment:

macuser_e7 said...


I'd endorse your 5 initial suggestions and add one of my own to address the lack of any opposition on the council: adoption of some kind of proportional representation in council elections.

Given that the existing wards are already multi-member constituencies, introducing the single transferable vote would be quite straightforward.

But a 3-member constituency might not provide enough diversity, so it might be better to combine wards (Forest Gate North and South for example) into 6-member constituencies.

Another alternative would be a borough-wide election on a list basis (like the European parliamentary elections), with votes giving their one vote to their preferred party or independent candidate and then seats being divvied up according to the proportion of votes received - perhaps with a 5% threshold.

Going back to a leader and cabinet model without addressing the fundamental problem of the one-party state would be almost pointless.

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