Stoke on Trent has voted to get rid of its directly elected mayor, something which a large number of Lewisham residents have been trying to do for years. Can anyone explain to me why the former referendum was allowed but not the latter?
Part of the explanation may be the comparative strength of the BNP in Stoke – Labour might be able to live with the odd Tory or Lib Dem mayor, but a BNP mayor – whose decisions could only be overturned by a two thirds majority in council – is not a prospect they were prepared to face. It’s okay to have elective dictatorships, just not if the people are in danger of electing the wrong elective dictatorship.
Glancing at their council’s political makeup, the politics of the place are a little idiosyncratic, with a large grouping of “City Independents,” a “Conservative and Independents Alliance”, a “Potteries Alliance” a smattering in non-aligned councillors and of course the blogosphere’s own cause celebre Gavin Webb. I remember campaigning in Stoke in a by-election during an LDYS conference back in 1998 (someone will have to remind me – was Gavin the candidate?). At the time, I seem to recall the Lib Dem success meant that there was a non-Labour councillor on the council for the first time in years. I appreciate I’m biased, but I do get the distinct impression that all these “independents” are an illustration of a system collapsing following years of hegemonic control. Only when they finally get some proper party politics back into the area will they finally begin to inject a bit of vision back into the city.
Labour’s answer to one-party strongholds was directly elected mayors, yet they have spectacularly failed to set the world on fire. Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill wrote an article in Lib Dem Voice a few months ago in defence of the policy, but failed to cite how they had made a difference in any tangible way. And while I have no love of Ian Blair, his single-handed dismissal by Boris Johnson easlier this month chilled me to the bone. A single person should not be able to effectively sack a police chief like that. No-one politicised the role of Metropolitan Commissioner more than Ian Blair himself, but the answer was less politicisation not more.
So well done Stoke for making a good decision. And here’s hoping the rest of us will get a similar opportunity.