Wednesday 25 March 2009

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

LibDem Leader, Cllr Jack Cohen has a blog on the Barnet Times. In his latest article, he reports that the Government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that from 2010, Councils will have to choose whether to have a directly elected Mayor or stick with the existing system.

Unsurprisingly, the Constitutional Review Committee opted to retain the status quo. The last thing councillors want is for the people to directly elect a leader because that person would have legitimate democratic authority to run the council. Councillors much prefer the existing system because it allows them to hold the leader to ransom, in return for juicy fat allowances to line their troughs with.

Brian Coleman warned of the problems with the current cabinet system in his excellent article in the New Statesman. He said that council leaders win or lose their positions “…on the strength of who they had promised well paid jobs to. And I fear getting to form an administration in local government has more to do with how all the allowances are distributed than which councillor is best for which job.”

Quite so. An elected Mayor, however, would go some way to undoing the damage caused by the Local Government Act 2000 because he/she would not be beholden to councillors to remain in office. The Mayor could select a cabinet based purely on a councillor’s ability to do the job. Imagine that! In theory the Mayor could form a coalition cabinet of all the talents. Outrageous!

An elected Mayor would put an end to the system where blind loyalty to the leader, rather than talent, determined how far up the greasy pole a councillor progressed. Councillors would actually have to prove their worth in order to advance.

The Government’s proposal represents a monumental change in the way we are governed but, like the Local Government Act before it, is being introduced without any democratic consultation or mandate.

The decision whether to have an elected Mayor should be taken by the electorate in a referendum, and not by councillors with their vested interests. Turkeys do not generally vote for Christmas!

Post Script: At the last full council elections, 216,717 Barnet residents were registered to vote. The turnout was 41.65% which means that 90,262 people voted, the majority of whom voted Conservative thinking that Brian Salinger was going to be Leader of the Council.

Mr Salinger, however, was ruthlessly dumped immediately after securing the Conservatives their biggest win for 12 years and was replaced by Mike Freer at the behest of just 21 councillors. So much for democracy!

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