Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Disrctly elcted mayors - just say no.
On Thursday next 10 English cities are forced by the central government to run referendums on whether or not to have a directly elected mayor who will wield (very limited) executive authority over the city. This is the latest of a series of measures designed to put a bit more vigour into our democracy without actual changing anything, such as Harold Wilson's decision to extend polling hours from 9pm to 10 pm in the evening in the hope of increasing the Labour turnout, putting polling booths into supermarkets, and the highly damaging extension of the postal vote to anyone who asks rather than just those who need one, which has so extended the possibilities of fraud.
I hope the referendums will each record a resounding "No" because:
1. These referendums are imposed from above: once again central government bossing local people on what they are to do and how they are to do it. (I am reminded of the Stanley Holloway monologue on Magna Carta which concludes with the couplet that the charter shows;
"... that in England today we can do as we lake
So long as we do as we're told.")
2. They place emphasis on "big personality politics (which) appeals to testosterone-charged male egos" rather than reasoned policies. The present London "X-factor" style contest between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone is an apposite illustration.
3. The claim that only a directly elected leader can achieve national prominence and speak with power on behalf of the locality is false. Livingstone was nationally known when he was the indirectly elected leader of the Greater London Council (so much so that Mrs Thatcher abolished it) and the most famous and effective mayor in our history , Joseph Chamberlain of Birmingham, was indirectly elected by the council. Bizarre is the argument put forward by Lord Heseltine, leading proponent of directly elected mayors, that Alex Salmond is a good example of what these direct elections will produce, since Salmond is indirectly elected and speaks on behalf a country rather than a city.
4. The system will increase the opportunity for croneyism and corruption. I think at least two of the deputies (each paid over £90 000 a year) appointed by Johnson were forced to resign.
5. With no possibility of executive power, there is little incentive for able people to put themselves forward as councillors. I do not necessarily see local government service as a pre-requisite for national government, but one of the weakness of the present government is that it is lead by young men who have never run anything of importance before.
The way to revitalise local government , and public interest in it, is to return genuine power back to it, including the power to set, keep and spend its own taxes, to introduce a fair and representative system of elections and to insulate local government from Whitehall and Westminster interference by a written constitution.
The proposed cosmetic will mean another change for the worse.