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.

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8 reader comments

  1. Shaun Millward says:

    Just seen the report on the referendum about the Mayor in Doncaster.

    Its ironic that when the Doncaster Labour council thought the mayor was/and would be Labour, they were all for it.

    When the voters of Doncaster went against there views they decided Doncaster no longer needed an elected mayor.

    Self interest seems to be the deciding factor and not the interests of Doncaster.

  2. Dermot Finch says:

    Doncaster has had a bad run of mayors, first Martin Winter and then Davies. It’s a bit of a one-off, and voters will probably scrap the mayoralty and revert back to a traditional council set-up.

    Some of those other cities could vote yes to a mayoral system – possibly including Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield or Sheffield. The referendum only requires a majority, there’s no turnout requirement, and voters might see a mayor as a good alternative to invisible council leaders.

    See my blog for more http://tinyurl.com/cktdrlm

  3. Mike Richardson says:

    First thing first, the English Democrats are not a right wing party, please get your facts correct, they are fighting for a Parliament for their country as the Scotts, Welsh have for theirs, as for the vote against a Major in Doncaster and the council take over again what makes the people of Doncaster think they will be better of or would it revert back to the BAD old days, no keep the Major but make sure its not a Labour councilor any one but them,.

  4. J&M Riggott says:

    J&M Riggott

    Michael Cricks report is very biased, if he cared to read the full audit report the majority of the citiscism was directed towards the uncooperation of the ‘self serving’ Labour councillors. Paragraph 9 states ‘Some influential councillors placed their antagonism for the Mayor before the needs of the people. Paragraph 39 states ‘The attitude of key councillors is fundamental to the failure of the council, these individuals come principly but not exclusivly from the Labour group.
    Hardly an unbiased report.

  5. Jon Snelling says:

    Whether the English Democrats were a far right wing party in 2009 is debatable. Now that they have opened the door to the BNP and most of their moderate members have left, the question is answered. Over 40% of the candidates they are fielding this week are recent ex-BNP.

    Some Labour people want to keep the job, hoping they will get it back next year. Given the experience of 8 years of Martin Winter, that prospect is no more appealing.

    Elected mayors are not the future. They are a failed Blairite experiment and an abstraction from true local democracy.

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