Posts Tagged ‘directly elected mayors’

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

08/06/2012, 03:22:19 PM

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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