Brummie author WH Fordham on the mayoral referendum

WH Fordham expresses his opinion of elected mayors.

One of the many spurious arguments put forward for having a Mayor of Birmingham is that a figure with a high profile is a good thing because it gets the city noticed.

Boris JohnsonWould that be ‘high profile like Boris Johnson who fills letters pages from embarrassed Londoners claiming that his buffoonery has made the City a laughing stock ?

Or high profile like Jacques Chirac who received a two year suspended prison sentence for ‘diverting’ public funds ?

Or high profile like Kwame Kilpatrick who had to resign as mayor of Detroit in 2008. He was accused of perjury; misconduct in office and obstruction of justice and spent 4 months in jail.

Even the much revered former mayor of New York, Rudi Guilliani was surrounded in controversy.  His private life included three marriages & estranged children.   His zero tolerance crime policy was scandalised by police shootings of unarmed suspects.  Even his handling of the aftermath of  9/11 has been seriously questioned.

And lets not forget William Thompson.  Who ?  He was Mayor of Chicago in the 1920s. It is generally accepted that he was ‘in the pocket’ of Al Capone.   After his death he was discovered to have $1.5 million stashed away in deposit boxes !

Birmingham West MidlandsBut embarrassment and shame are the least of our worries. There are far more serious reasons for saying No in the coming vote.

1. We have no idea what powers and authority the Mayor will have. Our esteemed Government in Westminster haven’t decided yet !   So all the promises and electioneering from the candidates is so much hot air – because they don’t know themselves if they’ll have the power to fulfil anything they say.    Would you sign a blank cheque and hand it over to a stranger ?

2. Birmingham currently has 120 elected councillors.  To get a policy passed through council needs a majority ‘Yes’ vote.  Quite correct.  Democracy in action.

Our new Mayor will only need just 40 Yes votes to go ahead with any madcap scheme he/she comes up with.    Excuse me !       Democracy or autocracy ?

3.  In 2002, Stoke elected a Mayor.   It was such a disaster that in 2008 after a referendum, the City returned to the tried and tested Council system.  Fair enough.  But hold on.   If our new Mayor is a disaster, we wont get that opportunity.  It will need an act of Parliament (Westminster again) to ‘allow’ us to return to the Council system.  If they so please that is.

4. How much will our Mayor be paid ?   Nobody knows.   How many deputies, advisors, consultants, & ‘hangers on’ will there be ?  Who decides ?  How much will they all be paid ?  We don’t know.    How do we get rid of them if they are not up to the job.   Likewise the Mayor too.   Nobody knows.

5.  Can the Mayor ‘adjust’ the number of councillors ?  Can he control when local elections are held ?   Nobody knows.

6.  Will  the Mayor have total, one man control of everything that happens in our City ?  Housing, Transport, Emergency services,  Schools,  Planning,  Refuse, Roads, Leisure, Health, Council Tax  ?

Do we really trust one person, whoever he is, having God like control over all decisions ?

Birmingham Mayor debateWhat, for instance, if a giant supermarket chain wants to build a supermarket in (say) Cannon Hill Park.   To put it delicately, they could put pressure on a one man operation.  To put it less delicately, there could be brown envelopes changing hands in car parks at midnight.

Fanciful ?    Refer above to Mayors, Chirac, Thompson, etc.

Not convinced yet ?   Here’s more daft argument from Councillor James Bird:  “Mayors engage people. “During the riots, London had a united voice in Boris Johnson but Birmingham didn’t have anybody to turn to.”

Mr Bird must know that Boris Johnson had to be ‘coerced’ into returning from holiday abroad to deal with the riots.  Nobody in London seemed to know who was in charge until he returned.   In Birmingham our police just got on with the job.  No fuss.  No waiting for one man who held all the power.

And as for engaging with the people.   The council leader is perfectly capable of doing that, as are individual councillors. The councillors in my ward  are excellent at keeping us all informed and staying in touch.  A Mayor probably wouldn’t know where my ward is.

Finally, as if all of this isn’t enough, the clincher for me is this.  I haven’t seen one argument from a candidate where I simply didn’t say;  “But the council can do that anyway.”

Here are the recurring themes:   Mayors have clout;   A Mayor can help all Brummies achieve their potential.   Mayors can fight local unemployment;   Mayors attract investment.;  Mayors can get public and private sectors working together.  Mayors can regenerate the City.  Mayors can speak their minds in Westminster.  etc.         Isn’t our elected Council already doing these things ?  And far more democratically than one man having free reign.

Unlike Stoke, if we get one we don’t like, we may not be able to change our minds.

For me, the negatives far outweigh any positives.  There are simply far too may unanswered questions.

Unless we get a lot more answers and assurances I’ll be voting No on May 3rd.


W.H.Fordham is a Birmingham author of award winning short stories.

His work can be bought from Amazon  for E.Readers.

50% of all royalties from these stories will go directly to Alzheimers Research at: @ARUKFundraising