In this post, I ask : who has the most to lose from the election of a directly Elected Mayor?
The key defining factor of an Elected Mayor Model of Governance is the fact that one person is directly elected by and democratically accountable to the electorate and s/he obtains legitimacy from that platform by standing on the issues that matter to Birmingham, as directly judged by the local electorate.
It is certain, therefore, that such a person will take prominence in the city and others, locally, nationally and internationally, will look to that person – in preference to any existing person providing city council leadership – for strategic leadership of the city and they will want to talk/work with such person, in preference to any existing city councillor or public bureaucrat.
Put simply, the elected mayor will become the primary focus of attention – for good or bad – whether that be in the tv, media or in any other public facing aspect relating to Birmingham. So who, currently, has the greatest to lose from such a position?
From experience, I know that such a prospect will prove a great threat and challenge to many of the existing councillors and, to a slightly lesser extent, Birmingham MPs (but less so far the Sutton Coldfield MP) as, under the Elected Mayor Model of Governance, ward based councillors, in particular, will become even more irrelevant in civic society. They will, for example, lose their public value.
Apart from political party leaders and those in the Elected Mayor’s Cabinet, Chairmen of Regulatory Committees and the Chairman of the main Scrutiny Committee, all other backbench councillors will find themselves in an even worse wilderness then the current system. Which explains to a large extent why so many of the current councillors wish to retain the status quo.
It is recognised, however, that the new elected mayor model may have the effect of producing even less – not more – interest in councillor elections and further reduce the current 30% electorate turnout in such elections. On the plus side, however, I am adamant that the new and more exciting prospect of an elected mayor dealing with ward specific, city-wide, national and international issues has the potential to excite local democracy and enthuse a new interest in local democracy, leading to an increased turn-out at elected mayor elections.
The true potential of the new elected mayor model of governance will not, however, be optimised unless Birmingham has an independent elected mayor, as it is only then that s/he will be able to talk to, involve and rely upon the ‘best of the best’ people for Birmingham’s success and s/he will not be limited to a small pool of people chosen by or from the party political machinery.
A credible independent elected mayor, therefore, has the potential to secure maximum success for Birmingham by putting “Birmingham First”; whereas, the reality is that a party political candidate will only seek to (or be allowed by his/her political party) to talk to, involve or rely upon a limited pool of like-minded party political people.
If a party political elected mayor is elected, I firmly believe the new elected mayor system is in danger of being stifled at birth by the current ‘status quo’ system of political parties appointing only people from their political parties in Cabinet and other Chairman posts. Talent outside of the party political system will, as now, be totally ignored and political parties will continue to quarrel and point-score amongst themselves. In other words, as now, they will never put “Birmingham First”, just their own party political interests.
If that were to happen, I am clear that Birmingham will lose out again – for at least another generation – as the current political parties will continue to limit the ability of Birmingham to punch above its weight in the national and international arenas. Places like Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester will, I fear, leave Birmingham behind and that is an outcome that I will be working hard to ensure does not happen!
Birmingham voters should vote for change, vote for an elected mayor on 3rd May 2012.