A Mayor for Nottingham. This is not a protest vote.

They call her The Lady

At the Notts and Derby Chamber of Commerce mayor debate in Councillor Graham Chapman, the Deputy Leader of Nottingham City Council had the odds stacked against him.

Not only was he battling the prevailing wind of change, he was outnumbered three to one on the panel.

He should have been OK, he’s as bright as two of us ordinary folk, but one of his opponents was Lord Andrew Adonis and he’s as smart as all three of us.

A question from the floor challenged Councillor Chapman on the council’s record, in particular for tackling deprivation. The tight boundary is relevant to the mayor debate and to the statistics that put Nottingham towards the bottom of the wealth league table.

Not including West Bridgford and Arnold and Bulcote (Nottingham’s best kept secret) in any assessment of Nottingham when compared to places like Leeds and Sheffield which include leafier*, wealthier suburbs is perverse, but we are stuck with it, unless and until we do something about it.

It’s the journey that counts. Schools should be judged on how improved are a child’s prospects given where they started out in life, or how they spent their early years, as well as on the number of exams that are eventually passed.

A council should be judged on the impact it has on relative deprivation, the extent to which lives have been improved and opportunities increased for those less well off, as well as on the overall wealth-health of the city compared with others.

Nottingham is moving up the wealth table and those living in less well off communities are relatively better off than they were.

New schools and swimming pools, cleaner streets and crime halved, improvement works to thousands of council houses, Nottingham Contemporary, the tram, Old Market Square, Splendour. Credit is due.

When work to build the tram started lots of people said they didn’t want it. Who would give it up now? You might not like the Workplace Parking Levy or the five-term year but that’s not the point. This is not a protest vote.

The referendum asks only about democratic principle.

Put simply, “Do you want the person who leads Nottingham to be chosen by councillors from one political party or should everyone get to vote?

Councillor Chapman prefers the former.

I prefer a leader we all choose.

Whatever you call her.


* Not really, all Nottingham’s neighbourhoods are as leafy as anywhere, probably more so. This is Sherwood Forest.


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I wrote about the boundary here.

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One Response to A Mayor for Nottingham. This is not a protest vote.

  1. Martin Gawith says:

    Hi Stephen thanks for widening the debate beyond the local name calling.Perhaps we need to look elsewhere to see whether a Mayor works. My view is that they can BUT the Prime Minister must first put the powers on the table rather than saying vote now and we will see what we can do later. If he seriously believes Cities can become the powerhouses of the UK economy he must give us the tools first.

    The debate in Nottingham has been based largely around vested interests and anomalous financial figures. In this paper I am attempting to draw lessons from Mayoral experiences elsewhere.

    Since a directly elected Mayor is a new phenomenon in the UK we should perhaps look abroad for examples of the way Mayor’s can work.

    In Europe politics has often been led by cities for good and bad:

    Barcelona: Pasqual Maragall was Mayor from 1982 to 1997. Anyone who remembers Barcelona before this date will know it was an impoverished area with few jobs and little tourism. Pasqual led the regeneration of the City opening up the waterfront and creating an international city and venue. He single handedly brought the Olympics to Barcelona and ensured its status not just as the Basque capital but one of Europe’s major cities. It is unlikely that this could have happened under a committee or a devolved leadership model.

    In the USA City Mayors have long been established leaders and advocates for their communities:

    Milwaukee: John Norquist was Mayor from 1988 to 2003. He left office after a Clintonesque episode with an employee. John Norquist not only revived the fortunes of Milwaukee but changed the way US Mayors worked with congress and the President. In Milwaukee he reinvented the city and created a “New Urbanism” he demolished the six lane highway that led into and out of the city. This provided a platform for a revitalization of the lakeside with new apartments and housing attracting wealthier residents back into the city. The demolition of the highway also encouraged people to use the grid system (planned in many US cities) and filtered traffic along many routes. Not only was it quicker it created economic activity within the inner city and helped create wealth opportunities in the most deprived areas. This achievement was a long term vision that had considerable vested interests and would have failed without the singular commitment of Kohn Norquist

    His greatest achievement was to eliminate the ya boo politics of City Mayors and congress. Elections would often see the attempted bribery of both sides in the chase for votes. John created the Mayors conference to work across party lines and negotiate with presidents and congress (without megaphones) to improve the prospects for cities and their residents.

    New York: Rudolf Guiliano was Mayor from1994 to 2001. New York was becoming a terror zone with gang wars, guns and breakdown in civil society. He championed a platform of “Quality of Life” and tough on crime. Despite being a republican in a traditionally Democrat City he is recognized for turning the City around – both in terms of crime and civic life. It was possibly because he came from the traditional opposition that he was so successful in changing the image of the City. He was also instrumental in showing leadership at the time of the twin towers bombing.

    Hartford Connecticut: Michael Peters was Mayor from 1993 to 2001. A Democrat elected against the party machine with a background in community activism. Hartford is an area known to the City as it is a centre for bio chemistry and animal work. A city quite like Nottingham in that its once major industries had all but disappeared – the insurance capital of USA was no more (shipping had moved away). Michael Peters championed new housing and “rising star” areas to encourage the middle classes back into the City. He supported SME’s and created new incentives and grants for local industries – he encouraged the adoption of “Competitive Advantage” for City start ups, working in close partnership with Professor Michael Porter of Harvard University. This is a different sort of Mayor – he had little direct power. Not even a vote on the City Council – but he managed to persuade and cajole the council and business leaders to reinvigorate the city. A community and business initiative even kept the hockey team in the national league. The rising star initiatives brought local communities, business, training providers and City officials together to create innovative and sustainable jobs and communities. It was one of the few major cities to encourage more walking in the City, with better parks and urban walk ways.

    There of course have been failures.

    What did Cincinnati do wrong to have Jerry Springer as Mayor 1977- 8?

    Chicago Mayor Jo Daley 1955 to 1976 – The last of the “Big City Bosses” – often associated (though never found guilty) of corruption. He ran the show largely for power in itself with little strategy for the future of the City.

    Paris: Jacque Chirac (1977 to 1995) – recently found guilty of corruption and finding “Jobs for the boys” as well as receiving money. This is largely due to the French electoral system that ensures major Mayors are part of government and therefore the corruption around Paris was very much linked to national politics rather than Parisian politics Likely to be less likely in the UK with a fairly non-political civil service

    So what is on offer in the UK?

    Not a lot. The Prime Minister sees Cities as a major block on the country’s economic success (or so he says) and therefore wants to free them up to create better places and more activity. He says “Trust me, elect a Mayor and I will give him power to act in your interest.”

    I have a healthy distrust of national politicians – they always advocate and support devolution of power when they are in opposition; but unfortunately when elected, they centralize power to themselves. That applies to all parties even the Lib Dems!!

    I have little doubt that elected Mayors with the right powers could make a substantial improvement to today’s city living – but it needs the powers to succeed.

    We are left then with a stark choice:

    Support the status quo for all its faults or vote for a puppet mayor. It may be that powers do come down the line but it is a gamble. Surely if the Prime Minister was serious about wanting to address real city issues he would state the powers on offer and make them available up front.

    We may feel let down at times by local politicians but the Prime Minister has just flunked the real test. We cannot vote for a change unless we know what that change is!

    The better strategy is surely to wait and continue to press the case for further devolved powers to local levels – when they are clear then we can decide properly whether or not we want a mayor.

    Martin Gawith

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