Sunday 19 October 2008

Stoke Mayoral Referendum: Vote Yes

This Thursday the people of Stoke-on-Trent are being asked to attend their local polling station. Should they do so, they will be met with this question:
Are you in favour of the proposal for Stoke-on-Trent City Council to be run in a new way, which includes a councillor, who will be elected by the councillors of Stoke-on-Trent to lead the Council and the community which it serves?
As far as Stoke Socialist Party is concerned, the vote should be yes. Earlier this year we wrote a letter to the anti-mayor Democracy 4 Stoke campaign, which explains some of our reasoning:
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.
There are two main reasons for opposing the mayoralty, aside from the disastrous record of the office's two incumbents. To begin with the council leader and cabinet system is far from perfect, but is far more accountable to public pressure than an elected mayor. There are no mechanisms for accountability in between four-yearly elections and under the mayoral system councillors have little power. The mayor can safely ignore them and drive through whatever policy they wish. The only way the 'no' campaign can pretend their preference is more democratic is due to the appearance of greater democracy afforded by direct election, but in reality electing a mayor is choosing between who gets to dictate policy in Stoke for four years.

Then there is the anti-fascist argument. Put simply, it is more difficult for the BNP to win control of Stoke-on-Trent if we bring back the council leader system. And the fascists know it too, which is why they're opportunistically backing the 'no' campaign. If the council leader option is rejected then the BNP is in with a shout of winning the mayoral election due to take place May/June next year. Therefore the principled anti-fascist position is to vote yes. It won't stop the need to fight against their influence, but it will make the task of turning Stoke from the jewel in their crown into their political graveyard that little bit easier.

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