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:

David Baines, who will be voting NO, writes:

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.

3 thoughts on “Opinion: What would an elected mayor do for Jesmond?”

  1. Dave Besag says:

    I’ve voted against an elected mayor. As a former Newcastle councillor I have a knowledge of politics (especially in the city). I realise the disasterous result that centralising power in the hands of one person can produce.

    This opinion piece states that the council needs to be quick and decisive. The council was quick and decisive over the Gosforth Park Nature Reserve. It was also an ill thought out decision and has had to be looked at again. Good decisions do take time and need to be scrutinsed. A mayoral system will make matters worse.

    There is a strong argument that the current Cabinet/Executive system has already centralised power too much in Newcastle without trying to narrow this power base.

    A mayor only needs a third of the councillors to agree with them in order to approve their decisions. How is that accountable? What happens if they become unpopular. In 2004 Labour leader Tony Flynn and in 2011 Liberal Democrat leader David Faulkner would have been able to stay in power under a mayoral system. This would have been despite their parties losing control at the ballot box (they still had over a third of the councillors). Furthermore, a strength of representative democracy is that helps to protect the rights of minorities. A mayoral system removes this.

    A mayoral system oversimplifies the political process and it is unusual that ineffective political leadership is solely the fault of one person.

    The previous and current leaders of the council have been perfectly able to act a high profile voice for the city but they do this with the support of the elected representatives who are voted into office by their electorates to express their concerns.

  2. Chris Clarke says:

    On this issue, I largely agree with Dave Besag.
    One only has to look at North Tyneside to see many of Sam’s views disproved. Under the Mayoral system we have seen the budget put forward by an elected Mayor of one party voted down by councillors from another party, who are in the majority within the Council. How exactly is this an example of decisive decision-making? We have several examples within Newcastle of Council Leaders with a national profile, who have fought for Newcastle on the national stage with great effect. I would quote Sir Jeremy Beecham as an example, but there are others. Under a traditional electoral system everyone knew that Sir Jeremy was speaking for Newcastle, with the full support of a majority of Councillors, something that certainly cannot be said of Linda Arkley in North Tyneside.
    Elected Mayor Drummond of Hartlepool actually sems to have been remarkably good at his job, but he was elected on the basis of his role as the mascot of Hartlepool football club. Do we wish to see a mate of Mike Ashley stand for the Mayoral role in Newcastle?!

  3. Kirk Thompson says:

    Democracy is about having an equal chance of affecting the future of our city: its services, infrastructure, economy and environment. Politicians / councilors are merely agents / servants of the electorate, voted into office to deliver our political preferences. Democracy is best served NOT by returning your particular colour of councilor, but by having our political preferences realised and delivered. Thus the question becomes: which system of governance will best deliver our political wishes?

    I argue strongly that an elected mayor affords much greater chance of those preferences being delivered: and therefore of the democratic preferences of Jesmond’s electorate being realised. A mayor will have sufficient time in office to begin to deliver a strategy for Newcastle. At the end of his/her term, the electorate will judge the incumbent on what he/she has actually delivered for Newcastle – not just what he/she claimed. Currently, the political persuasion of the council can change almost every year – this is not a recipe for stability; generating long-term economic and development strategy; or building trusting relationships with business and other regions to deliver growth.

    Should Newcastle be led by a part time politician who has to hold down another job to pay the bills, as is the case presently? Is it in Newcastle’s interests that the 2 parties – that will continue to share power in the city – expend enormous resources every year fighting one another in elections rather than working for Newcastle?

    No of course it is not. Liverpool, Salford and Manchester will have elected mayors in the very near future. Their councilors have decided the mayoral office offers so many opportunities for their respective cities, that it’s a no-brainer not to go for one. These mayors will be part of a network of elected city mayors and will meet Westminster ministers and civil servants in a cabinet of elected mayors, where they will have access to new powers, new pots of money and new opportunities. If Newcastle votes ‘no’ then it will be not at this table. Splendid isolation is not a route Newcastle and the northeast can afford to take now.

    A mayor who gains the trust and respect of central government will be given the extra powers he/she asks for. Do Jesmond’s citizens really want to continue having no greater say over their own future? We have a situation at present where the northeast is being ignored and overlooked by central government. We’ve lost One Northeast, the biggest booster of regional economic growth. The region languishes at the bottom of national table in all socioeconomic measures: unemployment; income; inequality; educational achievement; life expectancy. This is what council governance has delivered.

    Whatever the outcome of the future Scottish referendum, Scotland will gain much greater powers over taxation imminently. As has just happened with Amazon, which has taken a new distribution warehouse north of the border rather than choosing Tyneside, citing greater Scottish government incentives, the northeast will continue to lose out on inward investment if it lacks the powers to offer similar incentives. A mayor would be able to argue for these powers. The coalition government has made it clear that under current governance arrangements, the 7 warring local authorities of the northeast do not cooperate and work together well enough to be handed these extra powers. Newcastle and Sunderland rivalry is as strong within their respective council chambers as it is on the football field.

    Government is changing. In decades to come, networks of cities will become a far more important and relevant means of government than national government. This is the case in Europe now. As we move to a situation where political devolution for the ‘Great North’ is beginning to be considered, a mayor for Newcastle would be at the centre of these discussions.

    The choice is clear: the status quo; introspection; instability; political infighting; lack of voice; and ineffective delivery of city and region-wide strategy. Or national and international visibility; clear, accountable and visionary leadership; and the necessary powers to attract and sustain investment to the city and drive a new age of prosperity and growth for Newcastle and the northeast.

    The above arguments are expanded at the excellent website:


    (NB I know it’s excellent, because I wrote it!!!)

    Warwick University has just published an independent academic report coming down strongly (with some caveats) in favour of elected city mayors. See:


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