18 Apr 2012

Will Donny scrap its elected mayor?

Ten big English cities are holding referendums on May 3 on whether to introduce elected mayors – among them Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Leeds.  Two other cities, Liverpool and Salford, have jumped the gun, and having plumped for the mayoral system earlier this year, are now voting on who should actually do the job. Under the mayoral system, the elected mayor holds executive power, as opposed to a council leader chosen by fellow elected councillors.

So then, a big step towards the mayoral system which was first advocated by Michael Heseltine in the late 80s?  Well maybe.

But one area, Doncaster, is bucking the trend. They’re actually holding a referendum on whether to scrap their existing elected mayor. Which rather suggests the system hasn’t been a great success.

The people of Doncaster voted to introduce the new post as long ago as 2001, partly in reaction to the extraordinary corruption of the Donnygate affair, which saw 21 councillors convicted of fraud and several go to jail.

This morning I dropped in on Donny’s current elected mayor, Peter Davies, in his office.  He belongs to the right-wing English Democrat Party (and is father of the Tory MP Phillip Davies).  He was elected in 2009 and the following year an Audit Commission report delivered a damning verdict on his first year. Their report said Davies lacked leadership skills, or the ability to reach consensus with his council (a hard task when more than two thirds of Doncaster’s 63 councillors are Labour, and there are no English Democrats).

One of the first acts of the new Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in June 2010 was to take the unusual step of imposing commissioners on Doncaster to ensure that Davies and his council bucked up their work. It’s hard to argue that Pickles’s decision was a ringing endorsement of the mayoral system.

Labour councillors in Doncaster seem to be unanimous in wanting to abolish the elected mayor. But the embarrassing thing for Labour is that Ed Miliband favours elected mayors. Mr Miliband, you may recall, is MP for Doncaster North.  And his chief whip, Rosie Winterton, is MP for Doncaster Central.

Doncaster, in fact, lies at the heart of a great swathe of Yorkshire Labour seats with an astonishing number of MPs who sit in the Shadow Cabinet. With mayoral referendums also taking place in Sheffield, Wakefield, Bradford and Leeds, Yorkshire, it will be interesting to see whether voters in these Labour strongholds back their party councillors, or Ed Miliband.

Follow @michaelLCrick on Twitter.

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