Stoke-on-Trent is many things, but the world centre of global revolution is it not ... yet. Therefore readers are forgiven for not knowing the issues that generally exercise The Potteries' citizenry. One issue is the role of the elected mayor's office. At present Stoke is run as an elected dictatorship. Labour mayor Mark Meredith basically shares power with the council's top civil servant. Advising him are a "cabinet" of councillors from the Labour, LibDems and the Conservative and Independent Alliance groups. Between them they muster a majority of councillors happy to rubber stamp whatever neoliberal scheme the mayor comes up with. The opposition is split between the Potteries Alliance, City Independent Group and our friends the BNP.
What this state of affairs has meant for Stoke is a wholesale attack on local public services. And local democracy has now become something of a political hot potato since Meredith announced plans to close and merge local schools into city academies. Initially this was to affect every school in the city but has since been scaled back. However if he gets his way this is likely to be a pilot programme and a portent of what is to come for the rest. What was even more scandalous was how the Labour group was given the right to protest against school closures ... as long as they voted the package through at full council. Incredibly, they did just that!
However, this appears to have been the final straw for many in the Labour group. Meredith has made many enemies among the local party, to such an extent that Labour candidates are stating their opposition to the mayor and the mayoral system on their election material. There is also every chance he could be deselected should he seek Labour's nomination next year.
It is at this juncture that the local campaigning organisation, Democracy 4 Stoke, has written to all 90+ candidates standing in Stoke-on-Trent for their views on the mayor. Their preferred alternative to our most New Labour of electoral systems can be viewed here.
I reproduce below our letter replying to Democracy 4 Stoke. I hope it will be of use to socialists elsewhere should local democracy become an issue in their council elections.
Many thanks for your letter and allowing me the opportunity to volunteer information about Stoke Socialist Party's approach to elected mayors.
As socialists we believe democracy and socialism go hand in hand. We stand for the fullest democratisation possible, at international, national, regional and local levels. We also believe democracy needs to be extended, taking in everything from the workplace to the management of public services.
In Stoke and across the country, wherever there have been moves to set up presidential-style local mayors the Socialist Party has opposed it. This is because elected mayoral systems are the least responsive forms of local democracy possible. As we have seen in Stoke this has allowed the mayor’s office to dominate the council chamber to the detriment of the city’s education and local services provision.
The alternative offered by Democracy 4 Stoke is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. We would like to see the mayor’s office dismantled and replaced by a council chamber with increased powers, but subject to annual elections on a ward-by-ward basis. It is far less likely councillors will vote for cuts, school closures and privatisation if they have to get themselves re-elected more regularly. The Socialist Party also stands against the system of privileges available to councillors; such as generous expenses, large allowances for sitting on committees and so on.
Whilst democratic structures are of course important the policies of councillors and political parties are far more important. Therefore, whilst we support the fullest democratic structure we are totally opposed to job losses, cuts, closures and privatisation.
I hope you find this information of use.