Stoke dumps mayor

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.


  1. “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 is less politicisation not more.”

    Why? Why not say that a mayor, elected directly by the people, can decide which police officer should be in charging of executing* his criminal justice priorities?

    * Probably an unfortunate choice of words there.

  2. Hi James,

    Stoke have been able to get rid of their Mayor because they – uniquely – went for the ‘Mayor and Council Manager’ option when they established their mayoral system. That’s no longer going to be allowed as a governance strucutre so they faced choosing between the elected-mayor system the other blighted authorities have, or switching to leader and cabinet.

    More info here:—final-report.en;jsessionid=bWBn6yFP9VFd



  3. Actually, Gavin, the unfortunate use of words is probably mine. In the strictest sense, I don’t want the appointment of police commissioners to become “depoliticised” – quite the opposite.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I am in favour of police authorities – which should be entirely made up of politicians (politically balanced) – being able to hire and fire police chiefs. What I’m not in favour of is a situation whereby a police chief has to answer to a single person, directly elected.

    What that leads to is patronage and that is corrupting. I’m not suggesting this happened for a second in London, but it would mean that essentially the mayor would be able to exert pressure on the police chief to not investigate something which the mayor might find politically embarrassing.

    I also think there needs to be a much stricter delineation between community policing, which has always been the police’s main function, and things such as organised crime and terrorism. In the US, that would be handled by the FBI, and for all its faults that is a much better system in my view. Currently, the police – particularly the Met – have to deal with a mixture of the two and that confuses priorities. It also means that Home Secretaries can justify meddling in the affairs of local policing when they should be limiting their interests to national policing issues.

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