Amanda Ramsay reports on the campaign for an elected Mayor for Nottingham, ahead of today’s referendum.
Of the ten English cities with mayoral referendum, Nottingham has attracted controversy at times in terms of their no campaign, which has flown close to the wind at times – with government demands ‘no’ posters were taken down – and negative leaflets claiming a mayor would cost an extra million pounds.
Darren Lewis, barrister and chair of Bristol Labour Party, told Left Foot Forward:
“We can all find examples of bad mayors. Just as we can find examples of bad MPs. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have either does it?
“Leicester’s elected mayor Peter Soulsby is impressive as he’s done things many Bristolians would like to see, scrap the chief executive and take the power from the unelected to the elected.”
Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood doesn’t see things in quite the same way, however, telling Left Foot Forward:
“This unwanted and unnecessary referendum is a distraction from the things people in Nottingham tell us should be the priorities for our city, including cutting crime, creating jobs and improving opportunities for young people.
“We don’t need the Tory-led government in London telling us what’s best for our city.”
• Elected mayors: To vote or not to vote? 26 Apr 2012
• Elected mayors: let the referendum campaigns begin 26 Jan 2012
Greenwood’s take on the referendum echoes the thoughts of many Labour activists across the UK, which she raised with cities minister Greg Clark last week in the House of Commons; she says:
“The double-dip recession and the Tory-led government’s reckless cuts to Nottingham City’s budget pose huge challenges to our city leaders and residents. Our focus should be on meeting those challenges.
“This referendum is an unnecessary and costly distraction.”
“The Tory-led government has said they want to strengthen local democracy and accountability but offer only one option.
“They said it was up to the people of Nottingham to decide, but then sought to rig the outcome by offering mayors access to the prime minister and threatening to exclude cities which choose not to elect a mayor.”
Nottingham is already part of the English Core Cities Group since 1996 and many in the city question the need to change.
“Ministers are offering the possibility of new powers when realistically there are none are on offer. Powers like transport should be devolved from Whitehall but in Nottingham’s case our City’s tightly-drawn boundaries would not be the appropriate level.
“If powers were contingent on a wider city boundary then the decision can’t just lie with current city voters.
“Any review of boundaries should take into account the outcome of the Boundary Commission’s recommendations for the city parliamentary constituencies rather than risk more confusion about who speaks for the city.
“I note that Greg Clark has suggested a mayor would speak for the conurbation but if so, the conurbation should be voting on whether we have a major and who it is.”
It’s been largely the Labour group campaigning for a ‘no’ vote, though many local business people and community leaders are supportive.
Speaking to Left Foot Forward, David Skelton, deputy director and head of research Policy Exchange, said proponents of the mayor seem to think along the following lines:
“Civic leadership is all too often anonymous and little known. A poll earlier this year showed 85 per cent of people could not name their local council leader. Having a single, well-known advocate is one of the huge advantages of having an elected mayor.
“Another powerful case is as well as doing something to halt the centralisation of power in London, a directly elected mayor in Nottingham would rely on the votes of around 300,000 citizens, rather than the votes of a few councillors behind closed doors.”
Another supporter is Stephen Barker, former director of communications at the council, who told Left Foot Forward
“I think the person who leads Nottingham should be chosen by everyone, not by a few politicians in a secret meeting.”
An eve of poll survey in the Nottingham Post shows undecided voters could yet swing the final result either way, with 39 per cent in favour of the present council leader system, compared to 32 per cent who say they’d like to see a directly elected mayor in charge.
Professor Steven Fielding, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Nottingham, told Left Foot Forward:
“People have a vague idea that there’s a referendum. The important thing is going to be who turns out to vote tomorrow and what their views are. I think it will be a relatively low turnout.”
“People often come out to vote against the party in power of the country. With the coalition in charge, it could mean the referendum is be decided by the Labour-inclined voter.”
Those following Steven Fielding on Twitter (@PolProfSteve) have been given this warning though:
“Last word on directly elected mayors: it’s like moving deck chairs on the Titanic.”
As Jo Tanner, director of the campaign for directly elected mayors, admitted to Left Foot Forward:
“An elected mayor is no magic wand. He or she won’t be able to solve every issue that a city faces, certainly not in a single term.
“But, by standing above the political maelstrom and having a mandate direct from the people, they can make a start.”