Hang on, did Ed Miliband just change Labour’s local government policy?

by Atul Hatwal

The headlines for Ed Miliband’s speech at the Royal Festival Hall yesterday have focused on English identity. Understandably so. But in the roll-out of this initiative, Labour’s leader seems to have slipped in a surreptitious policy change. One that has not been trailed or widely discussed.

Until now, the Labour party has backed city mayors. The policy was in the last Labour manifesto and supported in parliament: in January, Hilary Benn, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, was clear, “we believe that elected mayors can offer a highly effective form of local leadership”.

That was then.

Following up yesterday’s speech, Ed Miliband has penned an article for the Daily Telegraph today, entitled, “The England I love is defined by its spirit”. In this piece, he makes a very specific point,

“…we should get on with devolving power away from Westminster to English local authorities and the people, without the need for mayoral referendums or such-like.”

At the Festival Hall there was no mention of “mayoral referendums or such-like”.

This isn’t a glib insertion. Each word in an article such as this is carefully weighed. During the drafting it will have been seriously discussed before being included.

Clearly, the public rejection of mayors in city referenda in May by all cities except Bristol was a problem, but this was as much to do with the government’s ludicrous refusal to fully define what powers the mayors would actually have.

It’s hard to ask people to back a change if it isn’t clear what the change will be.

On the assumption that any extension of directly elected city mayors would require a public vote, Miliband’s words mean that Labour has shifted policy so that the party now accepts the status quo of local government.

Bye-bye direct democracy.

For Ed Miliband personally, this issue has always been a difficult one. In his own constituency, the local Labour party has been implacably opposed to directly elected mayors. It meant that in the run-up to the referenda on mayors, Labour’s leader was supporting them while his own local party was in opposition.

Within the party, it prompted a widespread sense of incredulity that the leader of the Labour party could not prevail on his own local party to back a flagship Labour policy on local government at the local elections.

It would seem that this is a problem Ed Milliband will not have to face again.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut

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9 Responses to “Hang on, did Ed Miliband just change Labour’s local government policy?”

  1. john P reid says:

    We’ve got A policy on Local govenment?????

  2. Fraser says:

    I’m a Conservative member and I agree with Ed Miliband. Devolving power to local government would be a marvellous thing to do! We need mayors, elected (but not party-political) police commissioners and in a nod to our cousins, regional governors, elected by the people to have the ultimate say in complex local issues.

    Devolving to local government would help quell the calls for an (expensive and complicated) English Parliament and would help bring some youthful vigour into local-level politics.

    You can only combat apathy by throwing more and more democracy at people and this would really engage local citizens in pavement politics! Good for you Ed.

  3. Rob C says:

    Elected mayors, such a gimmick. I’m glad such silly nonsense is dead in the water.

  4. JohnB says:

    ‘Miliband’s words mean that Labour has shifted policy so that the party now accepts the status quo of local government. Bye-bye direct democracy.’

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Elected mayors are not the only democratic form of local government. The present system, which mimics the national parliamentary system, may not be perfect but it is democratic. Nor does rejecting elected mayors mean accepting ‘the status quo of local government’. There are many other forms that a stronger devolved local/regional government could take.

    One of the problems pro-mayoral campaigners had was their insistence that this was the one and only way forward, and anyone who opposed it was a hopeless stick-in-the-mud – despite the fact that, as you point out, nobody had any idea how a mayoral system would actually work. Seems to me you need to move on and look at alternatives. Elected mayors was always a half-baked idea at the best of times.

  5. Brumanuensis says:

    Mayors are an unhealthy gimmick and as someone who voted ‘no’ in the Birmingham referendum, I would be glad if Ed was signalling a move away from the idea.

    But his words could also be interpreted as meaning ‘I’ll just devolve powers and set up mayors without bothering with an intermediary stage’. So I’m sceptical it represents a full u-turn et.

  6. Anon E Mouse says:

    Rob C

    Elected Mayors… why are you frightened of who the public may elect?

    Why do you believe you know better than your paymasters (assuming you were to hold some kind of office)?

  7. swatantra says:

    Absolutely. The People deserve those that they elect, whether its the nationalist Mayor in Doncaster or Robocop in M. .. or Hengis the Monkey, or even Boris the Clown; they’ve made their bed so let them lie in it, has always been my motto. But 4 years is a heck of a lifetime and we should really think about putting a ‘Recall System’ in place so that if The People realise the error of their ways they have at least one chance to remedy it, at a price, at their own expense, but only small individual donations to a ‘recall fund’ please otherwise we’ed get the Ashcrofts of this world buying votes and influence and power.

  8. Anon E Mouse says:


    If Ashcroft could have bought the type of influence you describe we wouldn’t have a coalition government now.

    The public aren’t stupid despite politician’s believing they are….

  9. Mike Homfray says:

    The overwhelming rejection of the mayoral idea has hopefully been heard and will be put to rest forever. Abolition of the current mayoralties would be welcome

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