Posts Tagged ‘elected mayor’

The best argument for an elected mayor will come from the people

20/09/2011, 09:35:29 AM

by Tom Keeley

On the day, at the weekend, that “yes to Brum mayor” launched its campaign for next year’s referendum, Birmingham Edgbaston CLP held its annual community conference.  While not at the campaign launch, I find hard to imagine that the assembled activists and politicians could have made a more compelling argument for an elected mayor than that made through the stories that residents gathered at the community conference told.

Time after time, residents expressed concern over the level of service the council provides. From bin bags to education and from rodents to health, residents felt that the performance of the council was unacceptable. All present could remember a time when the council had not responded to their needs; whether during a council tax enquiry or when trying to secure education for a disabled child or when seeking social care for an elderly relative. Most concerning was not that these problems exist, but that these are the same problems their parents had to contend with. Many admitted that they had stopped even trying to sort problems because dealing with the council was futile endeavour. “The lights are on in the council house, but no one is home”, commented one resident.

There was also a feeling in the room that as a city Birmingham had lost its way.  While other cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester have confidently claimed their place in twenty first century Britain, Birmingham has so far failed. It has failed to address the needs and harness the power of a young, diverse and changing population. It has failed to respond to a changing industrial reality. It has failed to admit that the city we now live in is deeply divided. Rather, it has drifted from year to year led by a council which lives from budget to budget.

Notwithstanding their disappointment, the number of residents present at the community conference is testament to the fact that the people of Birmingham are still willing to give politics a chance. But they need a politics that is accountable to them. Residents felt it unbelievable that the “leader” of Birmingham was selected through internal Conservative party dealings (and that a Labour leader of the council would be selected in the same way).  Residents bemoaned the fact that the leader could not in any meaningful sense be held accountable for his performance. “I would have sacked him long ago if I had the chance”, said one lifelong Birmingham resident.

The position of the elected mayor has the potential to bring vision and accountability to the politics of Birmingham. I am not foolish enough to think that one of the largest councils in Europe would suddenly change direction with an elected mayor; its failings go much deeper than that. But, having a person with whom the buck stops, who is accountable, who must consult in order to understand rather than to pander and who can be fired by the electorate for not seeing through election promises, would add much needed impetuous.  For too long Birmingham has lived with a Kafkaesque council and mediocre leadership.  This is an important election for Birmingham and a great opportunity for politics.

Tom Keeley is an activist in Birmingham Edgbaston CLP.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

It takes a mayor to lead a city, says Liam Fogarty

03/06/2010, 08:11:28 AM

Londoners electing a Mayor seems like the most natural thing in the world. Hard now to imagine that it was once seen as a radical, even dangerous, innovation.

Yet the simple principle that a city should have directly accountable, visible leadership is being applied in just a handful of English cities and towns.

Three-term Mayors Dorothy Thornhill (Liberal Democrat, Watford)) and Stuart Drummond (Independent, Hartlepool) have emerged as popular local champions. London borough Mayors like Jules Pipe in Hackney and Lewisham’s Sir Steve Bullock can point to better services, greater public engagement and real strategic leadership as their mayoral dividend. The mayoralty of Greater London has become one of the most high-profile posts in British politics. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon