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Why we need an elected Mayor

November 11, 2009
Cllr Miah

Cllr Miah addressing the Tower Hamlets College UCU rally


There is going to be a referendum on our future system of government in Tower Hamlets. Of that I have no doubt. Although a majority of Labour councillors apparently wish to deny the voters of Tower Hamlets a choice, they had better wake up to the fact that the law has fortunately taken this matter out of their hands and put it into the hands of Tower Hamlets voters who have signed in their thousands to support a referendum.

I want to give a huge thank you to everyone in the community and all the community leaders who have done so much to raise thousands of signatures for the petitions that have been submitted to the council to trigger a referendum.

Now it is time for Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats to start engaging properly in the arguments.

On offer to Tower Hamlets are two systems – a modification of the present system of “Leader and Cabinet” but with the leader elected for longer, or a directly elected mayor as we have in Newham, Hackney and the Greater London Authority.

In my view the arguments for a directly elected mayor are overwhelming. The current system is fundamentally flawed and no modest change to it as proposed is going to make it any better. Indeed it will probably make it worse.

Under the current system, the leader is selected by a small minority of councillors in the Labour group at least some of whom will be strongly influenced by the promise of a paid Cabinet job. Over the past five years we have had no less than four different leaders because of the profound divisions in the Labour group, not to mention four different chief executives. This lack of continuity is a big problem in ensuring a strong policy direction to deal with Tower Hamlets problems.

Worse that that, the important decisions are made in secret in a shadowy body called the Leadership Advisory Group meeting in secret and without published minutes. The leader, exercising huge power over the council’s billion pound budget, is unknown to the vast majority of voters. So there is a lack of accountability as well as a built in instability in the present system.

With a directly elected mayor, on the other hand, the people themselves will choose who they want to lead the borough. Mayoral candidates will be obliged to go out and sell themselves and their policies to the electorate. There will be a clearly identified person with whom the buck stops. So the system will be more democratic and directly accountable to the people.

However the mayor will also be able to claim a mandate from the people of Tower Hamlets to implement the policies we need and to stand up to central government. This is not only because he or she will be directly elected. The mayor will be elected by a proportional system so the mayor will genuinely be able to claim the mandate from an overall majority of the voters, rather than the minority that elects the majority of councillors today.

And the mayor will be elected for a four year term, renewable if the mayor proves a success. So we will get more continuity in policy making.

All the evidence from around the country where there are elected mayors demonstrates their success. This is never more so than across London, where even Ken Livingstone’s opponents accept he was an outstanding mayor for London and brought about some significant and radical changes for the better, for example over the congestion charge and transport. No-one now seeks a return to a different form of government for London as a whole even if one is opposed to the policies of the current incumbent as I am.

In neighbouring Hackney, a council that was a basket case before the introduction of a mayor has now shown huge improvement in its performance on the government’s indicators. Mayors in other parts of the country have demonstrated they can run more efficient and effective public services and be radical and innovative in their service provision. Even in Hartlepool where the successful mayor dressed up as a monkey for his election campaign, his administration has won praise from academics researching the performance of local government.

Government ministers like Lord Adonis have urged the rolling out of the mayoral system, used so successfully in many other countries in Europe and the United States, but have been frustrated by local interests seeking to hold on to their little bit of power. That is sadly what we are seeing with New Labour in Tower Hamlets. Although here it seems to be one faction in Labour see a mayoral system as a threat to their attempt to take back power over the local Labour Party.

But that is no way to make decisions about how to establish the best form of governance for Tower Hamlets. The attitude of those opposed is in addition incredibly patronising. Apparently the voters cannot be trusted to elect the “right” person to be mayor. Fortunately these and other silly arguments against a mayor will be tested to destruction in the referendum. I firmly support a vote for a mayoral system in a referendum. But, above all, the people themselves must be given the right to decide this issue in a referendum and no politicians or parties with their petty concerns for their own self-interest must stand in the way of that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Aren't Respect hypocritical permalink
    November 24, 2009 10:18 am

    Of course, your position is entirely opportunistic. Newham and Hackney Respect called for the abolition of the mayors in their boroughs as they described the system as “undemocratic” and that power was too centralised in the hands of one person. They even called for referendum to remove them!

    Perhaps on your next blogpost you can explain why in Newham and Hackney, where they have a mayor, Respect oppose it and in TH where they don’t you support it??

    Also, as you are clearly interested in hearing what the people think, I assume you support the referendum on Election day 2010 when the turnout will be the highest and the maximum amount of people will have their say??

    • pressofficethr permalink*
      November 24, 2009 8:42 pm

      Hello, thank you for your comment. Tower Hamlets Respect is made up of Respect members living in Tower Hamlets. We make our decisions based on what we think is best for our borough. Hackney and Newham Respect parties I’m sure did what they thought was in the best interests of the residents of their boroughs.

      We are campaigning for – and have now won a referendum on – a directly elected Mayor for Tower Hamlets for the reasons Councillor Abjol Miah articulates above. In our Borough, the current system is obviously broken and treated with contempt by many. The proposal supported by Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems would not change the undemocratic stranglehold that out-of-touch politicians have. Now that we will be having a referendum, it is up to the electorate to choose what is best for Tower Hamlets. Respect will be arguing for a mayoral system against the three establishment parties.

      As for the date of the election, that is not a matter for us but for the appropriate officials in Tower Hamlets Council.

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