Saturday, February 10, 2007

Method in their madness?

Confirmation in the comments on my previous post that The Referendum Campaign have the required number of signatures to trigger a poll.

I've been working under the assumption that it was the lack of enthusiasm for the idea of dumping our ceremonial Mayor and their own disorganisation that explained why it was taking them so long to get the names together. I wonder if there isn't another explanation, however...

Once the referendum has been handed in, as I understand it, the timetable starts immediately which leads in 6 months time to a Borough-wide ballot. That time will be needed to check the names, for a draft constitutuion to be agreed by the Council to be put to the electorate, and for the publicity to be sent out informing the public of the choice before them. Given that everyone's attention will be on the local elections running up to May, that time will be needed in full.

That means any referendum will probably be held in ... mid-August! Easily the worst time of the year for a poll of this importance, and almost guaranteed to have a crashingly-low turnout. Given the obvious lack of enthusiasm for an elected Mayor amongst the population, I wonder if the campaign organisers think that a very low turnout isn't their best chance of slipping their proposal through?

If the Referendum campaigners think that their cause is genuinely popular, they'll hold off submitting their names until mid-March, thereby allowing a September poll when many more people will be able to vote. The decision they take will be very illuminating.


miketually said...

Does the referendum need a certain percentage of the electorate to turn out and vote in order to have any effect?

Will there be a "don't really care" option, as that seems to be most peoples' preference?

Mike Barker said...

A simple majority of those voting will suffice.
So, assuming a turnout of, say 20%, a major change in the way Darlington is governed would be introduced if just 10.1% of the electorate vote in favour.
It is interesting that none of the three main parties in the town has publicly supported this campaign.
It is perfectly possible to democratise the workings of the Council without putting so much power in the hands of one individual.
The result of any referendum might well depend on the result on May 3rd and any changes which might be introduced there-after. It will be interesting to see whether Labour would discover a new enthusiasm for an elected mayor if they lose control of the Council on May 3rd.
Just as the driving force behind the current campaign is a desire to get rid of Cllr Williams et al, maybe Labour will see it as a possible way to regain power if they lose in May. Maybe the campaigners will lose interest if the Tories win in May.
The campaigners seem to think some charismatic personality will appear to fight a mayoral election as an Independent. But where is this person: ready to work 60 hours a week for £30k?

miketually said...

When I first started teaching I was working 60 hours a week for £18k. Does the mayor get 13 weeks holiday each year? :)

As you say, having a directly elected individual in a position of great authority isn't always for the best. America has a directly elected President, does it not?

Darlington Councillor said...

You are both making some key points here.

To answer Mike's point, although neither the CLP nor the Labour Group have taken a position on the elected Mayor issue, I believe that many Labour colleagues think that the current system, with its ceremonial Mayor, is the best system for the town, regardless of who has a majority in Council. I can't see that changing after May 3.

Mike's position is consistent with the approach of a number of LibDem parties in places where there are elected Mayors, where it has been found that the new system is less rather than more democratic than the old model. It places, as he says, too much power in the hands of one person. LibDems seem to be leading a call in 4 places for a fresh referendum on the new structure.

I think opportunism is most likely to be in evidence from the Tories - several of their candidates support an elected Mayor now not because it would provide the best governance for Darlington but simply as a device to get Labour out because of the Tories own shortcomings as an opposition party. Already one prominent Tory in the town has been intimating that he would make a very fine Tory elected Mayor. If as I expect the Tories' performance in May is a shadow of their rhetoric at the moment, then expect more Conservatives to suddenly find enthusiasm for the elected Mayor model.

Finally, you both assume that the Mayor's salary would remain at £30k (which is roughly what the Council Leader gets now). I can certainly predict that were we to dump our ceremonial mayor, then the salary for the elected Mayor would increase substantially - Drummond in Hartlepool gets £50k plus, and I will be blogging more about this as the campaign develops.

Anonymous said...


I will post the points I made to you about the elected Mayor a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I cannot get onto my PC where the e mail is at the moment, but will do so.

You are right the salary of an elected Mayor is in the region of £50K compared with £28K for the current Leader of the Council. The ceremonial bit of the job will be carried out by a Chair of the Council who, like the current system, will be a Councillor.

Alan Macnab

miketually said...

For £50k a year, I'd be interested ;)

Seriously, if we do go the elected Mayor route, it would be nice to see someone none party-political getting it.

Ian White said...

I think for 50K a year many people will be tempted.However finding the right one without any political leaning will be the problem.

Darlington Councillor said...

I respect your enthusiasm for an independent elected Mayor Ian - it's worth bearing in mind however that there is no guarantee that this would be the outcome should an elected Mayor come about in Darlington.

For sure we have two independent Mayors here in the North East. Of the other 10 elected Mayors, however, 3 are independents, 5 are Labour, there's one Tory and one LibDem.

miketually said...

How many cyclists?


ian holme said...

Think this proposal will open up an interesting debate on local democracy and accountability.

I dont agree with your stance (no surprise there then!) but do appreciate there are strong arguments on both sides.

Personally, I do believe that dbc have brought much of the opposition upon itself through its arrogance and unaccountability especially brought to light over the last couple of years. We could argue the rights and wrongs of this for ages but there is little doubt that it is the recent high profile campaigns which helped instigate the referendum.

Now we must move on and see which system is better for the future.For me the key questions are,
Would an elected mayor put too much power in one persons hands?
Would an elected mayor be a more transparent and accountable method of local government?

On balance, and irrespective of the results in May, I do believe that one person directly accountable to his or her electorate is preferable to any sort of cabinet system at local level.

It wiil be interesting to see if the Tories come out with a definitive stance on this, or (more likely?)keep their options open until they see what occurs in May.

Certainly interesting times ahead!

Darlington Councillor said...

Hi Ian.

I'd be mad not to agree with you that issues like Hurworth, Pedestrian Heart and Tesco haven't fanned flames which have led in part to the petition being gathered, albeit I feel the Labour Council has been grievously misrepresented in some quarters (I won't bang on about Tesco etc again).

You're right, there needs to be a Borough-wide debate on the best structures here in Darlington - as I've intimated already there are some worrying signs from around the country where there are elected Mayors already that the innovation makes "decision by fiat" more rather than less prevelant, and I'll be blogging on that soon.

I think it's important also not to overlook one key cost of an elected Mayor which would be the dumping of the ceremonial non-political mayor which we have now. The Referendum Campaign have put out some rather disingenuous comments about this so far, which suggests they recognise that a lot of people do like this feature of our local democracy.

I saw your leading question on the Tories' website tonight - I think as a supporter of the Referendum Group you will be rather disappointed with Cllr. Johnson's comments to the Echo sometime in the near future. I may have been rather hard on the Tories when I suggested that they will be purely tactical in their support/rejection of an elected Mayor depending on the outcome of the local elections in May - many sitting Tory Councillors have been ceremonial mayors, and know how valued the institution is locally.

There would seem to be a big divide between most of the sitting councillors, and the prospective candidates - Mike Barker's "braying Tories" - who seem to be mainstays of the Referendum Campaign. The extent to which these characters do or do not get elected will probably decide how far the Tories will remain suspicious of the idea.