Monday, January 22, 2007

Straight Talk

In town shopping yesterday with AJ, I came across the Referendum campaigners on the High Row.

It was good to see Clive Owen, the Council's former Chief Executive from the 1990's, back again after an illness.

Otherwise, it seemed a fairly rag-bag affair, with a man in a pair of jeans hollering at passers-by through a megaphone about the campaign. Judging from the looks of people subjected to the noise pollution, he wasn't impressing many. The team had an old trestle table with news articles stuck to it. They made the Socialist Worker newspaper sellers look like a class act.

The exception was Jan Mazurk, one of the Tories' candidates in Hurworth. Jan and I probably agree on almost nothing (including the issue of an elected Mayor for the town) but she is a dilligent and effective campaigner. She did me the courtesy of giving a straight answer to my question about the number of signatures the campaign now have - a couple of hundred short apparently.

Jan's frankness is in stark contrast to the bull which has come out of this interminable campaign. On 28 February 2006 they claimed to have "many" of the signatures they needed when they launched. In April they said they would have the names "by the end of the month." Four months later, strangely, with no petition in sight they told the Echo they were halfway there. This has become a farcical soap opera. I even offered Jan (jokingly) to sign the damn thing myself, to help put us all out of our misery.

For what it's worth, I think the campaign blew the only chance it had by not being organised enough to trigger the referendum before the local elections in May. They could have capitalised then on any dissatisfaction that was in the air. Whatever the result, the elections should clear the air, and the Referendum, probably three months later, will seem an expensive irrelevance.


Anonymous said...

It can't be than long ago that there was a referendum to decide the form of council we had, when the decision was made to go with the cabinet system. I've only been eligable to vote since 1995 and I'm sure I remember taking part.

I still don't think having an elected mayor is a big priority with the majority of people in the town.

Mike Barker said...

Am I right in thinking this petition is not open-ended: the requisite number of signatures must be achieved within one year of the petition being started?
The year must be up pretty soon.

When are we going to read some words of wisdom from you on the Conservative manifesto? As I said in the Echo at the weekend, the Lib Dems will be publishing their manifesto in February. So far I've seen no indication that Labour are preparing one.

Despite Jan's presence in the pro-mayor lobby, the Tory manifesto says only that they will "review the secretive cabinet system and make it more open and transparent". No mention of how they intend to do that.

townliar said...

Hi Nick
What you seem to of forgot in your haste to decry the petition is that John Williams is hated in Hurworth after the school fiasco a fact borne out by Mrs McEwans 16 votes at the last election and I as the Hurworth collector have still got my pile to add to the mix so snigger well now at those tatty collectors on High Row for he who laughs last
"didn't get the joke"

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks, everyone.

Firstly, in fact there wasn't a referendum to decide the Cabinet/Scrutiny model as it was imposed nationally by Parliament.

Secondly, Mike is right, the signatures on the petition (as I understand it) are limited to one year's validity - this is why dates of signing as well as signatures and addresses are required on the petition. If a signature was collected on February 15th 2006, it ceases to be valid on 16 February 2007 (although not the whole petition).

I suspect this is why there has been a panic since Christmas to gather the requisite number of signatures. Of course the organisers said that they had collected "many" of the signatures they needed by February 28th, and as the document will be open to public scrutiny, it will be interesting to see when it comes in exactly how many they had at that time.

The Tories' position as you say appears to be muddled. What I think will happen is if they win in May (God help us) or it's a hung Council, then the Mayor idea will be quietly dropped and the referendum will be a non-event. If they lose, however, faced with 4 more years in opposition, then they will go for it big time, and effectively try to re-run the result as a way of getting Labour out by a different method. Sounds cynical, I know, but it is the Tories we'll talking about.

Ian - I wasn't decrying the petition, simply pointing out the inordinate amount of time it's take to get the names, and the comments the campaign organisers have made in the press. Referendum campaigns aren't supposed to go on this long - that's why the time limit was introduced for the signatures. It creates instability when Local Authorities don't know for a long period what structure they are likely to have in the future.

miketually said...

I'm the original anonymous, by the way; not sure how that happenned.

Maybe I just read about the options for council structure?

Anonymous said...

An elected mayor would represent the town & the borough. Alan Milburn represents the town & Tony Blair the villagers. This is why we need one voice via a mayor. Why ?, because of the way Darlington treated its villagers over Hurworth school!!.