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Peter Latham discusses why the Left needs to ensure massive “No” votes against US-style executive mayors on 3 May 2012.

The Tory-led coalition Government plus previous Conservative and New Labour governments – despite their rhetoric emphasising ‘community empowerment’ and ‘localism’ – in practice have all intervened on behalf of monopoly capitalism to restore the conditions in which profitable investment and capital accumulation can take place. 
Hence the main aim of the Localism Act 2011 - which gives Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) at least 142 powers to lay down regulations and issue guidance should be called the Centralism Act - is to complete the privatisation of local government services started under previous Tory governments and intensified under New Labour. 
There are 13 English councils (Bedford, Doncaster, Hackney, Hartlepool, Leicester, Lewisham, Mansfield, Middlesbrough, Newham, North Tyneside, Torbay, Tower Hamlets and Watford) with US-style executive mayors following New Labour’s Local Government Act 2000. Moreover, the mayoral system:
 
with power in the hands of one person leads to cronyism, patronage and corruption; 
is the optimal internal management arrangement for privatised local government services; 
removes the working class from this layer of local democracy; 
creates an arena focused on personalities not politics; 
has not increased turnout; 
lacks voter support; 
has an undemocratic voting system; 
gives voters no right of recall.
 
No referendum, as allowed under New Labour’s Local Government Act 2007, was held by Leicester City Council whose decision to hold a mayoral election in May 2011 was made on the basis of an online consultation in which only 0.16 per cent of the electorate supported the mayoral option. Moreover, the Labour US-style executive mayor in Leicester is already a public relations disaster. For, in November 2011 A report of the Independent Remuneration Panel recommended that Sir Peter Soulsby's mayoral allowance increase from £65,000 to £100,000; his deputy’s allowance from £34,000 to £75,000; the six assistant mayors’ allowances from £26,000 to £40,000; and backbench councillors’ allowances from £10,000 to £12,000.  Sir Peter said: "It's right that an independent panel reviews pay, rather than myself and councillors." These proposed increases coincide with a four-year drive to save £100 million and cut 1,000 posts. Hence – following public outrage – on 18 November 2011 the proposals were withdrawn.
On 7 February 2012 Liverpool’s Labour-controlled City Council also voted to move straight to the election of a US-style directly-elected mayor on 3 May 2012 without a referendum. The deal negotiated with the Tory-led coalition Government includes at least £130 million in new, additional funding for economic development skills and infrastructure. Meanwhile a poll in January 2012 of 500 local capitalists in the city found that 72 per cent were in favour of a US-style executive mayor.
The Localism Bill gave the Secretary of State the power to force a "shadow mayor" onto an area in advance of it being forced to hold a referendum on whether they wished to convert to an elected mayor leadership model. Regulations would also have required that new elected mayors took on the role of chief executive in their local authority. However, on 21 June 2011 – as the Bill started its Committee stage in the House of Lords – the Government withdrew these two provisions. Yet, as Professor George Jones and Professor John Stewart note, the Localism Act still ‘imposes referendums on local people and local authorities, not sought by either’ and ‘is not based on a logic of localism, but on a logic of centralism’. 
Birmingham, Bristol, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield are therefore being forced to hold mayoral referendums on 3 May 2012. 
In most of these cities, including Manchester, key local government leaders in all parties are opposed, and in the absence of any meaningful city-wide yes campaigns, the option of a directly elected mayor is likely to be spurned by voters. This is despite the hints from some ministerial quarters that extra resources for cities laid out by Nick Clegg are conditional on voters backing a US-style executive mayor.
The Yorkshire Post asked its readers “Should more Yorkshire cities have elected mayors?” They decisively answered 89 per cent “No” and 11 per cent “Yes” with no “Don’t knows”. Doncaster is the only Yorkshire council with a US-style executive mayor – which it is had since May 2002 following a referendum on 20 September 2001 with a turnout of only 25.4 per cent when 64.6 per cent voted “Yes” and 35.4 per cent voted “No”. But on 1 February 2012 Doncaster Council resolved to hold a referendum to decide whether or not the Council’s Executive should be changed from a Mayor and Cabinet Executive to a Leader elected by the other 62 councillors on 3 May 2012.
In addition, Labour has only just won back power in Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford. Sheffield’s new leaders are cutting £57 million in the financial year 2012-13, leading to heavy redundancies; one in ten council posts – 690 – may be slashed; and the situation gets even worse thereafter, with a budget deficit of up to £170 million by 2015-16. Steel city’s problems may be the worst, but there are similar financial pressures right across Yorkshire, as the north suffers greater pro rata cuts than better-off councils in the south.
In Birmingham, the Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore strongly supports a yes vote, and a cross-party yes campaign has been formed with strong support from local capitalists. New Labour careerists are already jostling to be the mayoral candidate, including Gisela Stuart (the Labour MP for Edgbaston), Siôn Simon (a former MP who stood down at the last election to fight for the mayoralty) and Liam Byrne (the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill ) who will stand down from  the Shadow Cabinet if Birmingham votes for a US-style executive mayor on 3 May 2012. Therefore, if Labour’s NEC bans MPs from standing as mayoral candidates due lack of finance and the fear of defeat following George Galloway’s victory, Simon would greatly benefit if Byrne and Stuart could not seek the Labour nomination. A No campaign is being run by Labour MP Roger Godsiff and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming; and is already complaining that the referendum question is loaded, since it suggests the only way the council can change is if the electors back a US-style directly-elected executive mayor. 
In Bristol three MPs, Labour's Kerry McCarthy, Tory Charlotte Leslie and Lib Dem Stephen Williams have all declared varying degrees of support for a mayor. But councillors in all parties are split on the issue; and Tim Kent – a councillor in the ruling Lib Dem group who represents some of the big post-war council estates – has set up a no campaign. In Coventry – where there is almost unanimous cross-party opposition – only Bob Ainsworth, New Labour’s former defence secretary, is in the yes camp. Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham and Sheffield also have no campaigns.
Imposed mayoral referendums are a distraction from the real problems in these conurbations.  For, 94 per cent of the Tory-led coalition Government’s cuts to public services are still to come. Therefore the Left now needs to ensure that in all these 10 cities there are broad vibrant movements to achieve massive No votes against US-style directly-elected executive mayors on 3 May 2012.
 
(Peter Latham is the author of The State and Local Government: Towards a new basis for ‘local democracy’ and the defeat of big business control published in 2011 by Manifesto Press; and a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s Economic Committee)                                                                             
 
 
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