Say no to a mayor


In the first of a series of blog posts examining the notion of an elected Mayor, Paul Clarke says ‘Just Say No’.

H’Angus the monkey was elected Mayor of Hartlepool

Now, I need to declare an interest at this point – I’m not a Leeds resident so I can’t vote in the poll to see if the city wants a Mayor. But I work here and if I could vote then I would say no.

Would that no vote be because I am a political luddite or think the present system is perfect? No, but I happen to think voting for an elected dictator isn’t the answer either.

It might seem extreme to say anyone voted into office is a dictator but remember this when you have a mayor you are stuck with them for four years and they will have huge powers. It means even if they are mad, bad or just plain old incompetent it is a long four wait until the next chance to get rid.

This is in stark contrast with the currnet leader of the council who has to stand before his fellow councillors every year and seek their mandate. So if enough councillors elected by the people of this city think they are mad, bad or plain old incompetent they are gone. So there is an already a decent democratic failsafe in place for local voters.

Another big myth peddled by the pro lobby is that the citizens who vote for the mayor are somehow different and superior to the ill informed fools who vote for councillors. The reality it is exactly the same people who vote for a mayor as vote for their councillors. Mayoral votes are in no way special or superior.

The pro lobby pretend they are uber democrats, but they fail to make it clear to you that the mayor appoints his or her cabinet. That is exactly the same or what happens now, so the party with the biggest number of seats usually has the leader of the council and cabinet seats. In the event of no overall majority then the cabinet seats are usually divided up according to the number of seats for each party. So once again no difference between the two systems

Some antis argue the office of mayor would cost more money but I don’t agree with that as.I think the current allowances and mayoral salary would be broadly the same. But the hidden cost is the 80 odd elected councillors who will have little or nothing to do most of the year, with their only effective veto trying to scrape together a two thirds majority to ditch the mayor’s budget. We would still be paying around 10 grand a councillor for them to sit and be ignored by the mayor.

If you don’t think that’s the case watch Johnston take mayor’s questions in London where this time for elected members of the assembly to hold the blond clown to account degenerates into a slanging match. This is because the mayor knows they councillors are virtually powerless to stop him. I bet most of the pro brigade are too lazy to watch this monthly farce.

That is the other danger of mayor is that it attracts blowhards and egotists from all ends of the political spectrum, or self appointed independents with a mandate from no-one but themselves.

The other argument is that having a mayor provides stability. But do we want the dubious stability of a Nick Griffin or some other fringe idiot? Part of why Leeds lags way behind its M62 neighbours is the way the council regularly changes hands, but that is the price of democracy.

An effective one party state like Manchester with a leader elected annually has no such problems. They are able to plan ahead to secure massive events like the Commonwealth Games with its subsequent lasting sporting infrastructure rather than bidding for scraps like the opening of the Tour de France.

It would be disingenuous to suggest all mayors have failed. Watford is often held up a good example, but the Mayor there is an experienced mainstream party mayor. But consider the fiasco just down the road in Doncaster where the voters are running back to the polls to decide if they want to end their mayoral nightmare, as are the good folk of Stoke.

But it’s not enough to say no to the mayor without trying to fix the problems within the present system and the way people feel so disfranchised from the political process that they will elect the likes of Galloway. I think we’d be better spending our time looking at how we might do that than instead of indulging ourselves in the dubious democratic arguments for having a Mayor.

If you would like to consider the options for yourself do come along to the event at the Rose Bowl at Leeds Metropolitan University. Monday 30th 6pm -8pm. Sign up Here


  1. I’ve lived in Leeds for 40 years and never once have I heard anyone say ‘If only we had a mayor.’ The whole campaign smacks of something dreamed up in London by politicians who know what’s best for us and has provoked a wave of apathy here. Remember the Regional Assembly campaign which was dreamed up in London and given a big raspberry in the ballot box. Cameron says it has done London good but the Newsnight London mayoral debate rapidly descended into a slanging match between Boris and Ken over their tax returns. Not very edifying.

  2. Asking the city region of London (5 million electors, 22 odd London boroughs) if they want a mayor and asking the city of Leeds (less than 500,000 electors, a single local authority) if they do, is asking two different question really. As Paul points out the mayor will only duplicate the functions of the leader of the council whilst sidelining the rest of the councilors. The whole idea is half-baked Tory crap.

    Nonetheless, the still more troubling proposition for the ‘democratic’ reform of local government, over which we appear to be offered not vote, is the idea of having elected police commissioners. Now there’s a recipe for populist posturing and bland personality politics.

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