Tag Archives: Bristol mayor

Meaningless mandates and erroneous privilege for the Bristol elections

There are two topics I dislike: one is the notion of voting as a privilege and the second is turnout somehow providing a mandate of some type on the leader.

Voting is not a privilege, it is a right in the same way that education and health and police protection are rights. Imagine saying that health is a privilege or police protection. It is the government’s duty to ensure we can exercise our right. The burden is on them and not on us.

More importantly, voting arguments about privilege rather than right are usually used to disenfranchise people with the justification that they don’t deserve it. No one needs to deserve it. As a citizen or resident it is your right to vote.

Definition of PRIVILEGE: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor

The government is not doing us a favour by letting us vote, we have the absolute right to vote and they have to take it from us. So no part of me agrees that in a democracy, voting is a privilege, if it was a privilege this wouldn’t be a democracy.

In terms of mandate, I have seen many comments saying a low turnout means that the mayor or PCC won’t have a strong mandate. This is a populistic device to rouse some arguments worthy of newspaper headlines. The most important thing is that the system by which we are governed allows this to take place.

It is the system which suffers from credibility issues and not the mayor or PCC. Where are talks of reforming the system or demanding a media as a real fourth estate which actually questions the way things are run.

Why were pcc statements only published on 26 October? Why was the decision to not distribute information allowed to pass unchallenged by the media? The media are meant to be the check, in the people’s name, on government (legislation, executive and judiciary being the other three estates). Demand the media represent the people.

Democracy is about information, transparency, accountability and more than just a low turnout. There are no “shoulds”, as in “you should be voting because people died” etc. There are only benefits to voting such as making people more engaged citizens and letting the parties know who counts. There is less incentive for elected parties to care for the needs of people who do not cast a ballot.

The system provides the mandate. The arguments about the mayoral mandates just provide fodder for the headlines.

A red trousered little person

Does anyone know what a Bristol mayor will do?

Described by Lord Beecham as one of the localism bill’s ‘stupidest notions’, the idea of elected mayors is struggling to make itself reality.

In May 2010, the Coalition set out its commitment to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors. They enshrined it in the Localism Act and have been busy with consultations while society has been busy with debates.

Bristol had its own Question Time-style debate at the Bristol Council house on February 22 with the audience armed with electronic voting mechanisms and the panel there to answer questions. There was George Ferguson, founder of the Tobacco Factory and Mark Weston, deputy leader of the Conservatives in support; while Barbara Janke, council and Liberal Democrat leader, and management consultant Deborah Hallett were against.

This was a local event geared towards building up interest in the new potential arrangement. The initiative is nationwide to the extent that referendums will take place on 3 May 2012 in 11 cities – Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.

Leicester already has an elected Mayor in Peter Soulsby who has been in power since May. Soulsby runs the city council and makes decisions on how it delivers services but he cannot make any decisions on licensing or planning issues nor set the budget. Apparently he is seeking more areas to influence such as transport and the ability to decide which buildings are compulsory purchased.

This is not to say, however, that the Bristol mayor will have the ability to set bus ticket prices since each location will be encouraged to find its own way to determine its own powers.

So what will the mayor do?

The government have suggested the mayor will have ‘visible’ and ‘democratically accountable’ leadership (source).

What powers would the elected mayor have?

A consultation has been run by the government about what the mayor can do for us. The responses suggested that the mayor could have powers in areas such as: planning, transport, employment, economic growth, health and policing.

The mayors are being introduced, where wanted, in order to aid decentralisation. How this will happen is up to them so the voters do not know the practicalities for which they are voting until after the fact. The mayors decide what they do once they are elected. All the people know is that it will cost £400,000.

The consultation, What can a mayor do for your city?, suggests ” the Government does not intend to reach any view about specific powers that might be devolved, or about a council’s scrutiny and accountability arrangements”.

It is a lot to take on faith so it will have to be a very trusted candidate voted for by those who have lost their trust in the current local government arrangements. Note that Manchester have decided they do not need one and Stoke have gotten rid of theirs. The London mayor seems to be a world on to his own and there is a whole section in the Localism Bill about all the new powers that role will achieve so I won’t mention that one.