Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Could Nick really be Torbays first and last directly elected Mayor?
Having won the vote on cutting the budget for the ceremonial chairman at the Town Hall Nick Bye has proved he has a determined streak which is essential to succeed long-term in politics, but has it also demonstrated something else, too?
The popular view amongst many who want to retain the old-style ceremonial mayor is that the directly-elected system is deeply unpopular with the public and that as soon as they are given the chance the good citizens of the Bay will flock to vote to abolish the post.
There has been some backlash against the directly-elected mayors that do exist elsewhere. Campaigns are now under way in four of the remaining twelve local authorities with directly-elected mayors to hold referendums to abolish the posts. Last year Stoke voted not to carry on with their Mayor (although there's was a slightly different type of mayoral role) In Doncaster, in March 2007, "Fair Deal" campaigners presented an 11,000-signature petition to the council calling for a new referendum. In Lewisham the Bring Back Democracy campaign is calling for a new referendum, citing poor turnout and a very close result in the 2001 referendum; and here in Torbay almost immediately the decision was made to launch a referendum the Lib Dem council opposed it; and they have consistantly berated the public for having had the temerity to impose a directly elected mayor on them ever since.

There are striking simularities between all of the campaigns to abolish directly elected mayors. The complaint is always that the Mayor wealds 'too much' power (a laughable complaint when you think about it) and that the towns decision-making is suffering as a result. The campaigns are also nearly all originated, managed, and run by previously senior councillors, and opposition party activists.
If something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably is a duck; these campaigns look and sound like sour grapes from political losers jealous of the power the public have vested in someone else; and most people can see right through them.

The debate that has raged here in recent weeks over the Chairmans £50,000 budget has been the first opportunity to actually measure public opinion on the issue. And it's been very interesting for what it has shown - the public haven't the slightest appetite to return to the old system.
Were there a groundswell of opinion against the office of a directly elected mayor you might have thought that scores of angry residents would have taken up their placards and marched on the Town Hall; in fact they didn't even manage to take up their pens over the issue. The Herald ran a survey that showed 9 to 1 in favour of 'finishing off' the old order - dumping the Ceremonial Chairman. The number of letters in support of the old way? - just one.
This confirms what I have been saying all along, there may be people who don't like what Mayor Bye wants to do with his power, there may be some people who don't like Mayor Bye personally but there is hardly anyone outside the narrow confines of the local political elite who would wish to hand power back to the self-serving cabal that had occupied Castle Circus before.
I remain convinced that at the next mayoral election in 2011 not only will Mr Bye vastly increase his vote but that the turnout will rise dramatically.

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