The possibility of having directly elected Executive Mayors (Council Leaders) was introduced in the Local Government Act 2000.
THE UK currently has 13 directly elected mayors.
Several Mayors are Independents and are not beholden to an Establishment Party. Ken Livingstone won in London as an Independent after the Labour Party refused to endorse him. Stuart Drummond, Hartlepool United’s club mascot H’Angus the Monkey, won in 2002 on the back of a jokey campaign. He has been re-elected twice since and is doing an excellent job for his town. Former senior policeman Ray Mallon won in Middlesbrough as an Independent in 2002 and won re-election in the recent election by a landslide. The first elected mayor of Mansfield in 2002 was the Independent candidate, Tony Eggerton, who has since been re-elected in 2007; his victory led to Independents eventually being the majority on the council. The first elected mayor of Bedford was also an Independent. Other mayors have been elected from political parties not forming the majority amongst councillors.
The choices for models of political leadership within local governance are:-
1. Elected Mayor The Mayor is directly elected by all the local authority’s voters and serves for four years. He or she would choose up to 10 councillors as cabinet members. The mayor cannot be removed from office by councillors, which makes sense as he or she was not appointed by the councillors. Advisory overview and scrutiny committees hold the mayor and cabinet to account and assist in policy development. This is the most democratic option as it gives the people the choice.
2. Strong Leader By contrast to the directly elected Mayor, the Leader is secretly elected by the councillors of the local ruling party. The Leader appoints a cabinet and has all the same powers as the Elected Mayor. As a result of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act, by 31st December 2010 councils must adopt either an “Elected Mayor” or a “Strong Leader” system. The Strong Leader system means that the Leader is appointed by the council (in reality the ruling party) for four years. The Leader is therefore beholden for his position to the largest party on the Council and so answers to them and not to the wider electorate.
This choice is the one preferred by local political elites because it gives them power over the people with the least chance of effective opposition.
3. Councillor Committees This is the old Committee system and was widely criticised as being too slow and too lacking in transparency and has now been fazed out as an option.
The Mayoral System
A directly elected Mayor can take decisions with a Cabinet (of councillors) appointed by the Mayor.
A directly elected Executive Mayor would be elected for a four year term by all residents eligible to vote in local elections.
The local authority’s “Executive” (or “Cabinet”) is made up of between three and ten councillors, including the elected Mayor. Elections for Councillors continue as normal.
Councillors have a role in the scrutiny of the Mayor’s decisions on major issues, including the council tax and major policy decisions. Committees of Councillors continue on planning, licensing and regulatory functions. In other matters the Mayor is free to decide how decisions are made, and the Mayor takes most decisions on a day to day basis instead of committees of councillors.
Councillors who are not members of the Cabinet would continue to have some important functions, including representing their local communities. They can monitor and comment on the performance of the Mayor and Cabinet – the scrutiny role referred to above.
• The Mayor provides highly visible local political leadership
• The Mayoral system provides a single, accountable leader directly responsible to the voters
• The mayoral system leads to faster decision making
• It gives the Mayor power to get policies into place quickly
• A fixed four year term ensures some continuity combined with direct accountability to voters
In Torbay the Elected Mayoral system has recently caused the Councillors to abolish the whip system as it is no longer necessary.
How to get a Mayor System for your Local Authority
The mechanism by which local authorities can move, from whichever governance system that they now operate, to the clarity of a directly elected executive mayor is by local referendum. The local referendum can be triggered:- First by the councillors voting for it (highly unlikely! – (turkeys/Christmas!); Second by the Secretary of State ordering it; Or, third, and most useful from our point of view, by a public petition. The petition threshold is surprisingly easy to cross, requiring the signatures of 5% of the registered electors. In most local authorities this is less than 5,000 signatures.
The consequences of obtaining a petition are governed by the Local Government Act 2000, which decrees that in the event that a petition validly signed by 5% of the electors calling for a referendum on a directly elected executive mayor being received by the council’s returning officer, there must, by law, be a local referendum.
If the majority of those that vote in the referendum are in favour, then there must be a directly elected mayor. The law therefore enables the vested interests of local ruling parties and councillors to be swept aside. Such petitions therefore have legal consequences which are unlike most petitions, which are merely an expression of protest by people and which are, unless they are in the interests of the ruling party, usually ignored.
Mayoral elections are a much more of a level playing field between all candidates than the usual run of English elections where the three Establishment parties have tremendous advantages in terms of money and organization.
In Doncaster, for example, while the English Democrats had been campaigning over the previous four years we had few other advantages except a hard hitting entry in the mayoral booklet (which is sent by the local Returning Officer to every elector as part of the system of mayoral elections) Also there is the Supplementary Vote System which in Doncaster enabled us to win on second preferences. As the BBC news coverage of the election did not even mention us, or our candidate, once during the campaign it is clear that mayoral elections are winnable solely by effort on the ground (and an excellent candidate!).
In addition the result of winning a mayoral election is that, subject to the restraints of his office, the successful candidate is in power in that local authority. It follows that it is also much more practical for a small party or for an independent to gain control of a local authority through the directly elected mayoral system than any other electoral strategy. The effect of doing so is strategically important as it undermines the British Establishment parties.
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