I went along to the meeting organised by the Mayoral Referendum Campaign this evening at the Quaker Meeting House in Skinnergate. On reflection, I rather wish I'd stayed at home and wrapped presents.
Turnout was poor - I counted 37 people in the audience, of whom at least 12 were "the usual suspects" (I count myself in that number by the way). Councillors or candidates in May's poll made up a sizeable proportion of the audience. This after a full page advert in a recent Northern Echo (and how much could that have cost?)
The panel was made up of a member of "Unlock Democracy", a campaigning front for the New Politics Network, who are unashamed cheerleaders for the elected Mayor principle; the Mayor of Hartlepool Stuart Drummond; and representatives from the three main political parties in Darlington.
My Labour ward colleague Cllr. David Lyonette addressed some of the dilemmas and doubts about the new system, drawing on dissatisfaction with elected Mayors where they have been created elsewhere in the country. Cllr. Tony Richmond for the Tories sat on the fence, I thought, pledging that a hypothetical Tory ruling Group after next May would do things very differently. Ian Barnes for the LibDems was more thoughtful, however, suggesting that the current system could be tweaked to widen public participation without the need to sweep away our ceremonial non-political Mayor. Ian also looked how an elected Mayor might work for Darlington too, so he gave a balanced address.
I chipped in at the end - in a personal capacity as neither the Labour Group nor the Constituency Party has expressed a view on an elected Mayor one way or the other.
Tellingly, when the meeting closed, I didn't see anyone go up to the front to sign the petition - not because there was any shortage of referendum supporters in the sudience, but I guess as just about everyone who backed the idea had already put pen to paper. With so few genuinely uncommitted people in the room, I don't think many minds were changed one way or the other.