Monday, 30 April 2012

Simple really...the case for elected mayors


Tonight I will be (briefly - five minutes isn't very long) addressing an audience at Bradford's Midland Hotel about elected mayors. Do come along (starts at 7pm) if you've nothing better to do - such as watch the Manchester derby.

For those watching football, washing their hair, knitting blankets for the starving or playing croquet, this is the nub of my argument.

Right now there's a election afoot in Bradford. Across every inch of the District campaigners are thrusting leaflets through letterboxes, bashing posters into gardens, knocking on doors asking for votes and generally - in the manner of politicians - voter-bothering. We'll be electing 30 councillors who will join the remaining sixty in deciding who runs the city and how the city is run.

The lovingly crafted leaflets will feature fine profiles of the candidate in question, snappy slogans and killer criticisms of the other parties. There will be photos of the candidate stood with local residents, pointing at potholes and engaging in all kinds of what David Cameron calls "social action".

Nowhere in all this will there be any debate about the City and District. Nowhere will we see a manifesto - or even a list of action points - that will set out how Bradford would be run under a Labour, Tory or Liberal Democrat administration.

For a lot of voters they'll get just one leaflet from one political party - I know that's true of folk in Cullingworth. This isn't debate. This doesn't set out any basis on which leaders should be judged by the electorate. It simply reinforces the view of the national media that local elections are just a grand opinion poll showing how well - or badly - the national government is doing.

And when we've elected all those councillors, off they go into private meetings, behind closed doors, to decide who runs the city and how the city will be run. The manifesto for the City and District - the set of actions, the listing of priorities - will be written by officers, squeezed through some pretence of a "public consultation" and then published in an impenetrable 78 page "strategy" that no-one will ever read from cover to cover.

We have to do better. We have got to start having a public debate about the priorities for Bradford - the city centre, schools, jobs and the environment. Rather than those priorities being determined by whoever officer is most successful at scaring the councillors into action, they will emerge from a public debate. And will be owned by an elected mayor.

The Bradford people will choose that mayor

The Bradford people will hold that mayor to account

And the Bradford people can get rid of that mayor if that mayor fails.

Simple really.


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