Saturday, 5 May 2012

Nottingham's first mayoral might have been

Well, it's all over. Despite what the Nottingham Post and the elected mayor 'yes' campaign would like us to believe, how the city voted was not unexceptional in any way — we voted to stick with the present Devil we know rather than, lemming like, throw ourselves into the arms of the Coalition. We behaved like every other city taking part in the mayoral referendums with the exception of Bristol, which has been badly governed for years by a series of local coalitions.

For the Post to claim that the 'no' campaign was at a disadvantage because it had to begin from 'a standing start' is disingenuous. They could have called for a mayoral referendum years ago. The sadly deceased former Labour and Conservative city councillor Michael Cowan certainly considered organising a petition because he spoke to me at length on one occasion about what he wanted to do. There is page on the Nottingham City Council website which tells you how many electors you need to trigger a mayoral referendum. The Local Government Act 2000 obliges the Council to make this information available. All you have to do is to get 5% of city voters (10,302 at present) to support you and you can have your mayoral referendum.

I suspect that Michael saw me as an ally because I publicly supported his efforts to create an urban parish council in Wollaton in 2000. Even though he and his Wollaton supporters had all the signatures they needed to go ahead, they (wrongly) I believe bowed to pressure from Nottingham City Council (aka the Nottingham Labour Group) and agreed to a postal vote and were trounced with 82% of voters against a Wollaton Parish Council on a 60% turnout. Residents were subjected to a campaign of disinformation by the Labour Group which taught me that when you go up against them (and I have done so in the past) you have to choose your ground carefully.

I see it as no coincidence that the Nottingham Post reports today that the highest turnout in the Mayoral referendum was in Wollaton West (27%). It will be interesting to see any ward figures which may become available for the 'yes' and 'no' votes by wards.

For a host of reasons I saw Michael's proposal as a non-starter, not least that I believed then (and still do) that we need to empower local communities first so that they have some degree of protection from an elected mayor with strategic priorities. I say this because Lenton, where I live, suffers every day from the consequences of a City Council which puts the interests of big business, Nottingham University and itself before those of the people who live in Lenton, despite the best efforts of its Labour city councillors, who I know and happily work for. They are not the problem and what few victories local residents have had have come with their support.

The media has shown little interest in the matter, including The Guardian, who published a letter from me about these issues on 19 April 2012, which I  wrote in response to an article by their columnist Simon Jenkins accusing city councils like Nottingham of being run by 'mafias' and in support of elected in mayors in English cities. I said:

'We need to address the role of councillors in post-mayoral councils, yet we hear not a word. There is currently an ongoing consultation into 'The role of councillors as leaders of communities and neighbourhoods' by the Parliamentary Communities and Local Government Committee, which has gone unreported by The Guardian, nor has a single columnist mentioned it, yet to me and thousands of others it is how 'doorstep services' are delivered and controlled which matters most. There is an overwhelming case for electing more powerful councillors to represent single member wards able to innovate and control budgets. This is the debate I would like Simon Jenkins and others to take part in, but I can him now… 'boring, yawn yawn'.

And so it is to the media. The Nottingham Post is as guilty of short-termism as any politician. They have shown no interest in this issue nor the work of Nottingham North MP Graham Allen, whose Parliamentary Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is arguing strongly for the relationship between central and local government to be codified.

Michael Cowan's efforts came to nothing and was, perhaps, Nottingham's first mayoral might have been. It's now up to the pro-elected mayor lobby in Nottingham to plan a long game (which might lead to another referendum in, say, 2014), to take the lead in organising a Nottingham 'Democracy Commission' to come up with better governance proposals for the city (and other parts of the conurbation if they are interested) so that when the next referendum takes place (with the support of 5% of city oters) there will be a clear alternative to what is on offer at present.

To win next time the 'yes' campaign will have to win an extra 8% of the votes. Even if the turnout was double Thursday's, this would be fewer than an extra 8,000 votes. Get the balance right and I may well vote 'yes' next time. As I wrote to a Labour city councillor earlier this week: 

Ultimately, Labour's undoing in Nottingham will be its failure to give attention to the seemingly inconseqential issues. Every week I listen to the 'vox pop' of elderly bowlers and local historians. Frustration and a sense of powerlessness feed an unhealthy cynicism of local politics. As for Labour's active opponents I know and talk to, there is a bitterness creeping in that I have not heard before. I tell you this as a friend and lifelong Party member. You could hear it in the audience at the Post's mayoral debate in the Playhouse last night.

I look forward to the aftermath of Thursday's mayoral referendum with interest and in hope.

1 comment:

My profile link said...

Hi Grandad...

I rediscovered the art of blogging recently and remembered yours!

Your posts made me smile :D

Love you

Laura xxx