Birmingham mayor: Yes, but No

‘Probrum’, writing on the ReStirred forum….. 

Fundamentally, the referendum comes down to two questions.

1) Should Birmingham have a directly elected Mayor and

2) should Birmingham have this particular model of elected Mayor.

I think the problem is the answer to the first question is yes, but the answer to the second is no.

The reason for 1) is that a directly elected mayor would have to produce a strategic vision for Birmingham, something that does not happen under the current system. On the other hand, I have some sympathy with the argument that it will be more about personality that policies, and that the current system is better in terms of people working their way up from the council rather than being flown in from Westminster. I prefer the style of leadership of John Major far more than I do the style of leadership of Tony Blair. However, on balance, I think a city the size of Birmingham does need a visible leader who gets his mandate directly from the electorate.

The problem starts when we start to consider 2).

What really worries me is the fact we don’t know what powers the mayor will have until we elect him. Given that the Localism Act actually seems to centralise more power rather than devolve it, I can see the powers being delegated being heavily dependent on the electorate picking the right candidate. Thus a left-wing Labour candidate will get fewer powers from the coalition, while a Conservative candidate will be given a free-reign. It would not surprise me to see powers being devolved on the basis of further privatisation of council services, something we, and particularly council workers, should all be wary of. This will further extend the powers of central government over the city, not free us. Add to this the idea that if we choose to change, it would require an act of parliament to change back so we cannot change our mind.

If we don’t change, in theory, we can still change on a later date and see how it pans out should other cities choose to go ahead. Normally I would say we should not do this as it would leave Birmingham behind, but I doubt any other city will choose a Mayor except perhaps Bristol. Manchester certainly won’t.

The chance of moving back to a committee system under which we experienced a relative golden era in the 1980s and early 1990s, made possible by the provisions of the Localism Act 2011, and which will not be possible if we choose to elect a mayor, means that on this measure the no campaign has it.

So yes to a mayor, but no to this [particular model of] mayor.

I appreciate, like the AV vote, voting down this change may end any chance of a change in future, but I simply cannot stomach the idea that we will be ceding more control to the centre.

BBC Radio WM 95.6FM today (Tuesday 1st May) at 10am on @adriangoldberg show for #brummayor debate. Ring in on 0845 300 9956