REFLECTIONS ON THE BRADFORD MAYORAL REFERENDUM DEBATE
30th APRIL 2012
The public meeting organised by JUST West Yorkshire in partnership with the Bradford Cathedral, the Common Good Network and the University of Bradford Student’s Union on the 30th of April 2012 highlighted the ambiguity that continues to hang in the public’s mind around the issue of an elected Mayor.
The failure of politicians in Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield to facilitate an informed debate on the pros and cons of an elected Mayor prior to the 3rd of May Mayoral Referendum, when voters will be casting a Yes or No vote, effectively undermines democracy and treats the electorate with contempt.
Thus far the polarised nature of the debate cast in simplistic terms in which the No campaigners have raised the spectre of power hungry dictators accruing powers to themselves, plays to a version of ‘bogey’ politics that is not borne out in the majority of the cities that have opted for an elected mayor model. With the exception of Stoke and Doncaster, cities that have opted for an elected mayor have consistently performed well across a range of key indicators.
Likewise the threats by the Yes campaigners that a NO vote will deprive West Yorkshire’s cities a portion of the bounty that the Prime Minister is waving as an inducement – membership of the Cabinet of Mayors; city deals that offer financial incentives and local freedoms and flexibilities to turn the economic fortunes of cities around – negates the huge strides that cities like Manchester have taken to bring about massive economic regeneration.
The recent independent report by the Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership that reviewed the performance of elected mayors nationally and internationally warns against taking a “binary approach as it allows both extremes to trade insults on the basis of precious little empirical evidence.”
The Commission’s view is that:
"Whether it is the right time to change from a council leader system to an elected mayor system seems to depend upon the status quo. Where the electorate is relatively happy with the current situation – as they appear to be in Manchester and Wakefield – then switching to a mayor may not be appropriate … However, where the status quo is deemed inappropriate then a mayoral system might well prove beneficial, both in terms of offering a change that might, in itself, improve the system, and equally important in offering a way of diluting the centralised nature of political life and enhancing the status of the locale at the expense of the centre."
Judging from the outcome of the exit poll undertaken at the Bradford Mayoral Referendum debate meeting, the results appear to highlight an appetite for change.
The total numbers casting for a NO vote for electing a mayor was 35.6% and 64.4% for a YES vote.
The breakdown for party preferences for a Yes vote were as follows:
Independent Mayor 48.6%
Liberal Democrats 0%
Although the above results are not based on a scientific sample, ultimately the decision to vote YES or a NO should be determined by the answers to the following questions:
- Do voters feel well served and represented by existing political arrangements?
- Is there a clear vision and blueprint for the area that gives its’ residents and businesses a strong sense of pride and belonging to the area?
- Has the present model delivered economic regeneration, investment and employment for the city?
- Has the present system of governance promoted openness, transparency and accountability in decision-making?
- What is the prognosis for the future wellbeing of the area under the present political arrangements?
Whatever the outcome of the Referendum on the 3rd of May, either way there is a crisis of democracy with trust in politicians and the political process being at its nadir. If the Referendum delivers a YES vote it is likely to do so not because there is a belief that it represents the best system but that it represents the least worse alternative.
Follow and join the Twitter debate on elected mayor: #bfdmayordebate
You can also read a post-event article by the Telegraph and Argus on http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/9679487.Public_meeting_hears_views_on_elected_mayor_for_district/
We will be releasing the positions of the political party representatives on the election of a mayor for Bradford tomorrow.
JUST West Yorkshire
(Promoting racial justice civil liberties and human rights)