Opinion: What would an elected mayor do for Jesmond?
Next week voters in Jesmond will have their say on whether Newcastle should get a directly elected mayor. We asked JesmondLocal comment editor Sam Wood, and leading Newcastle University academic David Baines to explain their opposing, and strongly-held, views:
It is clear what we will be voting for when we are asked to cast our lot for an elected mayor for Newcastle. He or she will be a champion for the city (or maybe for the region).
A person, says David Cameron, “with clout and a passion to make change happen”. We will be able to put in place a “strong, visible leader … better placed to articulate and drive forward a an ambitious economic vision”, a government spokesman told The Journal.
Or perhaps it is not quite clear. What powers will a mayor actually have? We will not know when we vote on whether we should have one.
Indeed, if we do, none of the candidates come November, will know what powers they will have – although they will no doubt make plenty of promises. We will only find out when the elected mayor sits down with the government after the election to negotiate the terms and conditions under which they will represent us.
And who will “we” be? At the moment we do not know whether the government will see our mayor as the leader of Newcastle – or the region.
I will be voting against having an elected mayor – but only partly on the grounds that I do not really know what I am being asked to vote for.
My real objection is that I find the proposal deeply undemocratic.
At the moment, we elect our local councillors and we can call them, visit them, seek advice from them and ask for their help and know that they can champion our case through ward committees and council committees and deal with planners and local government departments and other, bigger, organisations on our behalf.
And if they don’t, we can vote them out next time round.
Together, they debate – passionately – shape policy and make change happen. And any one of us can stand for election and argue our corner and make change happen.
If we end up with something akin to the mayor of London, he or she will hold power over housing, economic development, transport, policing, strategic planning and more.
They might well be able to make quick decisions, do away with all this testing debate, but it is asking much of one person to make the right decisions every time. It is a tad childish to put our faith in one person – a ‘strong leader’.
We can see around the world today the damage that a strong leader can do. We have seen in that other City the damage that powerful egotistical over-confident and arrogant leaders such as Sir Fred Goodwin have brought to institutions such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, to name but one of the disasters that have damaged so many lives.
Some cities have had good experiences with elected mayors, others less good. After three terms with an elected mayor Doncaster is expected to dump the system next week.
It is much better that we all take an active interest in how our city and our local council wards are run, than we take a gamble and hope some star will do the job for us.
Democracy, for me, starts at the bottom, not the top.
Sam Wood, who will be voting YES, writes:
This is a key decision which could shape the politics of the ward, city and the even the region for decades to come.
Those campaigning against a mayor in Newcastle say the extra expense that it brings, both in holding a special election and also paying for the extra trappings that the position would require is not worth it. Another argument used against is the fact that personalities can become more important than the issues.
Look at the election for mayor of London. It has all been about the battle between Boris and Ken, not Conservative and Labour. Surely we don’t want that here?
But the negatives are far outweighed by the benefits that having a single figure leading the city would bring. Despite becoming the Boris and Ken show, the mayoral system has worked for London and played a role in the Olympic bid win.
Having one person with all that power and influence should mean more decisive local government. Important decisions could be made quicker. It is often better to make a quick decision than the right decision and making quick decisions is not something the current council system could be accused of.
The mayor would be chosen by the people, not voted in by councillors, so immediately they would be more accountable. It will give voters a clear person to blame if things go wrong. If that happens they can be easily booted out and someone else can have a go. There will be no blaming the other parties for blocking initiatives: it will be down to whoever is in charge.
But most importantly in my view, it would give a high profile voice to the city, a champion who can speak out and be listened to. Even spearhead bids for high profile events.
The loss of regional development agency One North East has been a blow for the region, but the hole left behind could be partly filled by a mayor.
They could be a figurehead for investment, championing the city at home and abroad.
That’s why I will be voting yes next week for a directly elected mayor.
But how will you be voting? And why? Tell us in the comment section below.