Apologies for another long post. There’s just so much to say.
This week the Guardian ran a long piece about the mayor referendum in Birmingham. There’s not a lot of talk of it on the street, many say they know nothing about it and the bigger local political parties are split on the issue.
Pretty much as per Nottingham right now then.
Except that in Birmingham some important voices have come out in favour of change including the Bishop of Birmingham and former local Labour MP Siôn Simon who thinks the city is ‘run by a dysfunctional, introverted clique of councillors and officials’ and who gave up his seat in Parliament to campaign both for – and to become – the city’s first independently elected mayor.
Amongst others declaring their intentions are the former (and next?) Labour Leader of the Council, Sir Albert Bore and Gisela Stuart the Labour MP for Edgbaston. LibDem MP John Hemming is a No man but has not ruled himself out of any contest to come. Lord (Digby) Jones has ruled himself out because he does not think the post comes with enough power and former Labour cabinet minister Liam Byrne MP is waiting in the wings delaying his decision until after the referendum.
If there is a Yes vote in Birmingham then Labour will run a candidate selection process by ballot of its members (fewer than 4000 of them in a city of 2 million!) in June; it will probably be a bloodier contest than the election in November.
Many of these people are backing a campaign put together by ‘a group of Birmingham citizens’ who want to see a Yes vote. They have decided to campaign for a Yes vote because ‘Birmingham will be better with an Elected Mayor’. They claim not to be a political campaign, but a Birmingham campaign and to represent non-political citizens as well as people from all political parties saying they are normal Birmingham citizens, not the usual suspects with only their own interests at heart. They want to see Birmingham be great once again and believe ‘an Elected Mayor who will provide strong, visible leadership for Birmingham can do that’. They have a website here.
So, even before the referendum, alert voters in Birmingham (and there are at least some) have a debate raging around them and an idea of the some of the people who think they might make a good mayor and would be likely to make a bid for the job.
In Nottingham things seem a lot quieter. The council got in early to state its opposition to change and some probably hoped that would be an end to the debate. But just in the last week there have been further stirrings.
Jeff Moore the departing Chief Executive of the soon to be wound up East Midlands Development Agency told Insider that he is a Yes man; “I can understand why the economic and civic partners in Nottingham are wary of embracing an elected mayor, but I think the city would really benefit in the way that he or she could become a very powerful voice for the city, and could deliver definite change. You can think what you like about Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson, but the fact remains they’ve been excellent advocates for London. I’d definitely support an elected mayor for Nottingham.”
And then on Tuesday the first sight of a Nottingham contender getting into the ring. Maybe. Tim Garratt (pictured) is a partner at Innes England and last week led the Team Nottingham presence at the city-business-critical MIPIM exhibition and high-power-networking shindig in Cannes. In a post MIPIM blog he had this to say; “This is an interesting proposition. An elected Mayor would effectively replace the present position of Leader of the Council. The latter is a post created by the leading Party and voted on behind closed doors by that Party. I personally have no influence whatsoever on the decision as to who is Leader in Nottingham. Even if Jon Collins was my Ward councillor (he isn’t) I couldn’t influence his appointment. So a Mayor represents an opportunity for the people of Nottingham to decide who is to have the power in the future? I think this appeals to me. I like the idea of choosing who represents the City … I think the Mayor will be a good thing. So, I wonder whether to stand”.
Of course declared candidates can be accused of self-interest in wanting to change the system just as current politicians are accused of self-interest in not wanting to change it (though they’ll take to it pretty quickly should the electorate choose to change it) and Tim, who may or may not have what it takes to be a successful mayor, is right not to declare just yet.
Turnout in the May referendum, without any other reason for going to the polls, could be low. There is a very real possibility that the Labour Party’s postal voting machine, in just a few Wards, could block even a city-wide move for change.
With seven weeks to go before the poll those in favour of change (and those who just want to see more debate) need a few things to come about.
We need more voices in support of change and more reasons for the establishment to explain, in more positive terms, their opposition to change and their reasons for believing in the status quo.
We need more possible candidates to follow Tim Garratt and to talk publicly about possibly throwing their (feathered?) hats into the ring.
And we need more local people to get to hear more about what’s on offer on May 3rd. Then they can start to make up their minds – at least to vote one way or the other.
If the volume of the conversation can be turned up a bit it’s an opportunity to engage the public anew in debate about how Nottingham should be run and to create a new enthusiasm for local democracy.
You never know, a decent debate, best-led by independents as in Birmingham, might encourage wavering Conservatives (especially if they get a nudge from No 10) and supportive-but-silent-so-far Labour politicians and quasi-politicians to come out in favour of a vote for change.
Kevin Reddan, 31, is a self-employed Birmingham engineer who told The Guardian, “I’ve seen small bits in the newspaper and on TV. I don’t usually vote, but I might for a mayor. If London’s got one and it’s good for business, I don’t see why the second city shouldn’t have one too.”
And Nottingham too.
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