The English Democrats party is forcing Salford to hold a referendum on an elected Mayor for the city after they handed in a 10,000 name petition. Under the Local Government Act introduced by Labour, if 5% of the electorate petition the council and the signatures are correctly matched to names on the city’s electoral roll, a vote on the issue will be triggered automatically.
Last September at their party conference, the English Democrats launched a bid to increase the number of directly elected mayors across England, and Salford has become the first city to receive a referendum as a result of their campaign.
In a press release Robin Tilbrook, the English Democrats’ Party Chairman said “…Salford City Council was the first to achieve the necessary 5% of voters signatures to trigger a referendum under the Local Government Act 2000.”
Robin continued “All the British Establishment Parties nationally have pushed for elected Mayors to sort out the abysmal standards of both local government decision making and of democratic accountability but at the local level their councillors have usually been too busy looking after their own interests.
But why Salford? The organiser of the petition, Stephen Morris, does not live in the city and at a recent full council session, Salford’s 60 councillors voted in favour of retaining “a strong leader” and cabinet executive, so it seems clear that Salford’s democratically elected members do not share the same appetite for an elected mayor as Mr Morris and his party.
While I may count Salford’s leader, Councillor John Merry, as a political adversary – I do accept that he was elected fair and square in a local government election and that his colleagues who (by virtue of their numbers) control Salford City Council, have decided he is the man to lead them.
Councillor Merry said “[This] is not the first time English Democrats have cost us large sums of money. A mayoral election is likely to cost the people of Salford £150,000 and the organiser lives in Bury.”
If a YES vote forces Salford voters to directly elect it’s leader, rather than the members of the largest party on the council, I can only imagine how difficult running the city would be if a political opposite were to win the right to lead members of an opposing party.
Following an emphatic NO result in the AV Referendum just over a year ago, the voters of Salford have demonstrated their views and the preference is clearly to retain the status quo. I question the motives of the English Democrats, given the recent rejection by Salfordians of major changes to our electoral system.
Arnie Craven, Electoral Reform Society Council candidate added “Anything that may increase democratic engagement is to be welcomed. However the current rules surrounding directly elected Mayors unacceptably diminish the powers of local Councillors. That’s why I am calling on the Government to adjust their plans for elected Mayors in our cities, so as to ensure hard working Councillors retain their powers of scrutiny & oversight”
And given the Conservatives are considering not standing candidates in elections for the new elected police commissioners which are due to take place next May I am surprised at Tory support for elected Mayors, although in Salford perhaps it offers them a slim chance to wrestle leadership of the council from Labour control.
Nationally, the Liberal Democrats are currently calling for candidates interested in standing as Police & Crime Commissioners to undergo the parliamentary approval process, as all Lib Dem candidates will be required to be on the Party’s list of approved parliamentary candidates before being allowed to stand under the party banner.
However, no such call has gone out to local parties with regard to potential Lib Dem Mayoral candidates who may be considering standing. If Mayoral and Police Commissioner elections go ahead next year, certainly in Salford, it’s entirely possible there will be no Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates, potentially leaving the door open for well-funded BNP or English Democrat candidates to grab power by the back door. Locally, Labour have yet to announce if they intend to put forward their own candidates to fight these elections.