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Labour know they are losing the argument on an elected Mayor

December 4, 2009

On Wednesday an emergency meeting of Tower Hamlets Council met to formally receive the petition of over 10,000 local residents calling for a referendum on a directly elected Mayor and to approve practical steps to implement it.

The success of the petition, launched by Respect group leader Councillor Abjol Miah – campaigned for by Respect and many prominent community activists and leaders, reflects the high level of support within Tower Hamlets for a more democratic form of local government. Years of Labour-run administration have brought the Council into disrepute. We have had four council leaders in as many years, as Labour bickers amongst themselves and forgets their real purpose: to serve the community. Chief executives on salaries that would make City bankers blush have come and gone, at huge expense.

A directly elected Mayor would address this democratic deficit by providing a direct line of accountability between the leadership of the council and the voters. That is perhaps why the move from the start has been energetically opposed by Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. Labour’s opposition is most baffling, when you consider that it is the national Labour government’s position that councils SHOULD introduce mayors! Even the legislation providing for a petition to force the issue was introduced under the present government.

At the emergency meeting of the Council, it was clear that although Labour could not legally deny Tower Hamlets a referendum, they could force it to take place at the worst possible time for voters. There were two options. The first, favoured by Respect councillors and the Council’s own Monitoring Officer, the staff official responsible for carrying out elections, was to have the referendum in February. This would have meant that the Mayoral election could take place at the same time as we elect our local councillors. Not only does this make logical sense, but the second alternative – to have the referendum in May and the election for Mayor in October – would have meant four months in the summer when a different system of government was in operation, only to be done away with again once the mayor was elected. A February referendum would therefore have avoided this costly farce.

Predictably, the Labour group – supported by their friends in the Tory and Lib Dem groups – put their own party political needs above the best interests of the Borough and voted to support a May referendum and an October election. This will clearly be a chaotic mess. It was pushed for – against the recommendations of council staff – for the simple reason that all three of the other parties are opposed to a directly elected Mayor and are scared by the popular support for it.

Respect will not be deterred by these self-interested and corrupt goings-on. We look forward to taking our vision of a more accountable, democratic and value-for-money Council to the electorate in the coming months.

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