A fair chunk of the local political blog scene have been telling us why they don’t like a directly elected mayor so I thought I should use my small voice to say why (on balance) I’m happy with the system.
Perhaps we should all start by acknowledging that there is no perfect system of democracy, and that what different models do is to allow us to choose between the strengths and weeknesses of possible outcomes.
But I’m not sure that the people who are supporting the campaign to end the mayoral system here in Lewisham acknowledge any such thing. They characterise the Mayor system as being a danger to democracy and the start of some sort of autocratic rule.
As far as I can tell they argue that Lewisham would be much better served if you, the people, didn’t get to decide which person led our local state. They say that it would be preferable if that decision were in the hands of councillors.
And they describe that outcome as being more “democratic”, which is a very party political oriented view of the world.
For myself I like the fact that the Mayoral system allows us all a say in who the political leader of our borough will be but I acknowledge that it reduces the direct power of the councillors who also sit on the Council.
I believe that clarity about who is accountable for decisions made – and the increased visibility of the Mayor – has been a positive for local democratic debate, and wonder whether that’s as easily achieved in a system where we have less of a stake in who sits in the leader’s chair at council meetings?
There’s a comment here which asks me why there’s been so little appetite for the model elsewhere in the UK. I, of course, don’t have a definative answer, but perhaps low levels of public interest in local democratic engagement, and a conservative mindset amongst some existing councillors has played a part. And the mayoral model is a winner takes all approach, which has also probably been a factor. But it’s not an idea without support as the campaign for a Mayor for Liverpool may indicate.
If there is to be a referendum here my vote will be to retain the mayoral system, but should my view not prevail I don’t think this will be the end of the world; just a shame that I won’t be able to influence who leads the council.