Wednesday, 4 April 2012

I'm still backing an elected mayor in Bradford...


The surprise of George Galloway's election for "Respect" has changed the way in which some people are viewing the campaign for an elected mayor in Bradford (such as it is) - I've witnessed a little e-mail debate where the possibility of someone like George being elected as Bradford's mayor is being used as an argument against having such a creature.

Instead we should rely on the (no longer) smoke-filled committee rooms of City Hall wherein the councillors you elect will decide who runs the City. And all because we're scared of democracy - or rather of the 'winner-take-all' democracy implicit in an elected mayor.

Of course it is possible that Respect could win an election for mayor but to do so they would need to get a significant number of votes from somewhere other than Bradford's muslim community which seems unlikely to me. We forget that the muslim community remains a minority in Bradford - about 30% of the population - and even George isn't going to get 100% of that community to vote for him!  In last weeks election Respect got 56% of the vote in the most muslim part of the City.

But even were Respect hot favourites to win, I would still argue that having a mayor is the right choice. Right now we have a "leader and cabinet" model where us 90 councillors pick a leader from the limited pool of political group leaders (currently four) and that leader appoints his cabinet. It seems to me that this process - much of which takes place in private - represents the essence of local government's problems. Everything is determined by the whip, by the party machine and by the policy direction given from senior officers.

The choice shouldn't be determined by the calculations of local party leaders but by the public. And, just maybe, the public will - as they just did in Bradford West - not do quite what we politicians expected. So be it. Maybe it will keep us honest?


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