To the Arts Centre last night for the Northern Echo-organised debate on the Elected Mayor issue.
The Yes campaign were handing out flyers outside the meeting, and I privately cursed myself for not thinking of doing something similar. Given the high number of Yes campaign members and "fellow travellers" in the audience, however, I'm not sure that it would have made any difference.
The debate was chaired very fairly by Echo editor Pete Barron, who appealed at the start for active members of either campaign to declare their allegiance before they asked a question. Noticeably, two prominent Yes people (Shirley Winters and Nigel Boddy) flouted that rule.
I thought that both Alan Charlton and Stuart Hill spoke well for their respective campaigns. I was sitting with friends from the Labour Party, and we all had to smile when Stuart claimed that he wasn't a politician - Stuart was Labour's candidate in College in 1995, when we had a real chance of taking the ward off the Tories. Stuart was a useless candidate, who went AWOL for most of the campaign, and he never got selected for a winnable seat again. College has remained Tory ever since.
On the whole, the academic on the panel gave a balanced account of the elected Mayor experiment, although as I have become completely anoraky on the subject over the past year, I winced when he made some fairly basic factual mistakes. I was pleased to hear him say however that recent research indicates that elected Mayors, "haven't invigorated turnout or democracy."
The evening was dominated, of course, by Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon. Ray stayed true to his expressed comments in his Echo column that an elected Mayor has immense power. If any town elected a Mayor minded to abuse that power, "he'll bring the town to its knees." He added that Darlington was facing a judgement call, "but it's all about the personality" which is one of my fundamental worries about the position.
There were quite a few of my Council colleagues there from all three parties, and I could imagine a collective thought bubble with the words "bloody hell" rising up as the true scale of Mallon's ego became apparent, and they thought about having someone like him in Darlington Of course, his self-belief is one of his best assets for a lot of people, and the position of elected Mayor tends to attract very macho characters. When someone in the audience asked him "so what do you do on an average day?" Ray was off on his favourite subject, and probably would have been talking now if Pete hadn't interrupted him.
He is, however, a very able man, and the best elected Mayor in the country by a mile. As a canny politician, he plays the "I'm not a politician" line beautifully. I hadn't known until recently that remarkably, the Mayor of Middlesbrough lives in Darlington, and he was very complimentary about the town, so we must be doing something right.
Not surprisingly, given the make-up of the audience, there was a majority at the end for the Yes's. The only vote that counts, however, takes place on Thursday...