In reply to a Momentum tweet, which points at  Paul Bell’s Labour Mayoral facebook page, and highlights his commitment to be the last Mayor of Lewisham. [ See also  here…], Councillor Joe Dromey, a Lewisham Council cabinet member posts on twitter, supporting Executive Mayors

I say,

  1. As a matter of record, Labour members seem to only get to choose a mayoral candidate once every 20 years or so.
  2. A Mayor’s exclusive and entrenched powers of initiative and patronage are anti-democratic, weaken collective decision making and are sink for corruption. (In Lewisham we’ve been lucky).
  3. A Mayor cannot be recalled, a Leader of a Group can be.
  4. A Mayor’s decision requires a ⅔ majority to overrule them
  5. A Mayor’s powers of initiative and patronage juvenilises the majority backbench councillors, opposition councillors and ultimately even cabinet members.
  6. Labour Councillors are accountable to the Party every four years, Mayors are not, perhaps the Councillors should have more say.
  7. Labour Group’s internal processes are not good enough to hold a rogue executive mayor to account.
  8. The greater accountability of councillors to their Party and electorate, together with collective decision making should deliver better government. For instance, if the Lewisham Cabinet had asked the Labour Group about whether to issue the Millwall CPO, it wouldn’t have happened.
  9. Executive Mayors have always been established in the interests of incumbent leaderships. They are about party power, not citizenship empowerment.
  10. I’d add that support for the current system would come better from people other than candidates, cabinet members and councillors.
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12 thoughts on “Dictatorship?

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  • 29th November 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Hi Dave,

    I thought I ought to finally write down a more codified version of what we ended up discussing last night, even if just for posterity!

    As I said when we were talking, I agree that all of these points are valid, though some are valid for different reasons than others. Points 6 and 7 are clearly a problem with the rulebook rather than an issue with a mayoralty in general, though I appreciate that changing those is hardly an easy process. Points 1 and 3 also tie into this; reselection as per councillors, etc. is a quick fix for this. Also, and a slight aside, mayors can be easily removed by the party which they nominally represent even if they can’t be deselected, c.f. Livingstone and Dobson. It’s hardly ideal, but it clearly can work.

    5 is clearly a statement of fact, however, you can equally replace mayor with any executive and the same is true to some extent or another. The current executive power grab via Henry VIII powers and black marker pen is a good (?!) example of such a fault in Westminster-based politics. I’d like to lump this in therefore with 6 and 7 as an area where the rules, either party-wise or whatever local constitution exists (or should anyway), could prevent the worst excesses of such behaviour. This also ties in with the final part of 2 to a certain effect; a well administrated system is very hard to corrupt, but it’s clearly difficult to establish in the first place. I will return to 2a and 2b later.

    8 is difficult to argue with, although I’m unconvinced that when we get together this coming Saturday the selection of candidates will be done purely on the basis of what is best for the community, from anyone in the room, rather than on some other metric. These choices are then offered to the community with very little say, very little information and very little choice. That is not to say that mayoral selections are any better, but it indicates a general problem with the process. I honestly cannot think of a simple remedy for this, or even a complex one.

    I feel 4, the 2/3 majority for overturning decisions, is really there as an allowance for minority/independent mayors. I can see plenty of circumstances where a mayor from the orange party sneaks in despite the purple party holding a slight majority in the council. If the next four years is then just every decision being blocked then nobody wins, particularly the local people. Now, you can easily argue that that is democratic, a politically divided community has ended up with an appropriately politically divided political body, and probably politically and psephologically be correct. This though doesn’t get the bins collected. I appreciate that sometimes pragmatic politics causes principles to be decayed, which is a very accurate summary of some government policies seen over the last 20 years, but it is also sometimes necessary. I also don’t think this is a black and white issue, you can have the pragmatism without the decay. I’d hope one can be a pragmatic realist at times and a hardline idealist at others without fully compromising your principles ever, otherwise I feel both democratic discussion and community governance are effectively impossible.

    9 is I feel more a general rule than a specific one. Certainly in Bristol this was not the case and, although I have been a little disconnected since moving to NXG, I don’t think there’s much preference for returning to the stagnant council that was in place before. The feeling locally then was that the council was doing a very good job of what you are describing in 2a and 2b anyway, so why not give a mayor a go and see if it’s any different. There was good reason why Bristol was the only place that voted for a mayoralty (out of 10 I think?) rather than having it imposed. But this is a specific example to a general rule and doesn’t necessarily fix anything. What’s needed is good governance by good government, frequently both systems are missing at least one of these factors! .

    I appreciate I haven’t provided much in terms of points in favour of mayoralties, so to round it out nicely and respond to 10 I will try here to at least outline some of them. I think people like having a figurehead for either praising or blaming, particularly if they are not overly involved in politics. It’s easy for people like us to forget a lot of people aren’t really interested in much of the complex shenanigans going on and just want to live in a community they can value. I think more people would be able to name the mayor than ever could have named the head of the council, for instance. This has no democratic weight, but it does matter. The ability to get things done faster is another positive, with the caveat that of course sometimes we don’t like what is getting done (This is also true of councils, it just goes more slowly, sometimes glacially, and perhaps we don’t notice). I also think that to most people the election of head of the executive feels more democratic than the selection and election of head of council by 28 people in the council house. There’s an increased feeling of accountability, even if it’s only a veneer, but less politically motivated people are much more likely to get involved if they feel it matters and this is one way to achieve that. In terms of a more democratic and more democratised society, this can be a step in the right direction.

    Clearly, there are real issues with both systems and perhaps a mayoralty is not the way we should be going in Lewisham, or in fact in general, but there are certainly cases where it has worked, either instead of a council leader (Bristol) or as a new system (I’d say London, allowing for the big pause post-GLC). Sample sizes are certainly far too low to be able to statistically draw a conclusion and I suspect that while they will grow we’re a long way from quantitatively being able to say one way or the other.

    I shall leave it there, though I’d of course happily come back and talk more about it later, and definitely would like to hear where you think I’m talking nonsense!

    All the best,

    • 5th December 2017 at 1:03 pm

      This deserves a considered reply, and I will post one soon.

  • 23rd January 2018 at 6:31 pm

    I have had another thought as regards mayors versus cabinet fora/committees and democracy. I can forsee a situation where I didn’t get to vote for any member of a committee within a council if they are not constructed with a member from every ward, which seems unfeasible logistically. This would result in no direct representation for me and my fellow ward residents on decisions that could well seriously affect us (lets say planning and the arrival of a large factory or housing estate on our ward, massively beneficial for the borough potentially but not for those next door. I can think of other hypothetical scenarios that would be relevant too). With the mayoralty at least I really can vote against the person taking those decisions, whereas in a potentially divided council, even if represented by councillors from the same party (though Labour councillors would never be that factional I’m sure!) I might not be able to voice my concerns at the ballot box.

    Again it does rely on hypotheticals, but then I guess everything does until it happens, that’s why we buy smoke detectors.

    Cheers, see you shortly I suspect.

  • 9th March 2018 at 12:22 pm

    In the article above I state that Labour Councillors are accountable every four years, actually trigger ballot protection was slipped into the rules at some time. This needs to be reversed.

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  • 23rd January 2019 at 10:14 pm

    In the article Lewisham Democracy, it could be better, I say,

    This is not just a first-amongst-equals “Leader” with a different mandate, it’s an alien form of government, lifted from the US & France and designed to reduce the accountability of the decisions from people and their political parties.

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