Of the 21% who voted in the governance referendum yesterday:
· 47,165 voted for an elected mayor, and
· only 11,519 voted to stay with the Leader/Cabinet model of governance
· a majority of electors in every ward voted for an elected Mayor.
79% of Croydon electors did not vote. They either did not know about it, or did not understand the pros and cons, or were not interested in who runs the Council. And why should they? They have their own complicated lives to lead. Despite the leafleting and canvassing there were many people who did not know the referendum was taking place.
Anger On Both Sides
Many of those voting for an elected mayor may well have been motivated by their anger and contempt for our local politicians. Next Door West Norbury has had many postings slagging off Steve Reed as MP, with one contributor referring to ‘the rats’ at the Council.
On the other side Eric Hands writes on Lost Croydon:
‘I hope the grumbling, moaning minnies are proud of themselves. The turnout for the Mayoral Vote last night was truly pathetic compared to the amount of moaning that goes on about ‘The Council’ and ‘The state of Croydon today, not like it was, daren’t walk down the streets now’.
If we admit that maybe 20% were truly unable to get to either a polling station or a post box then that still leaves 59% who couldn’t be bothered to vote. I expect they’ll say ‘ it wouldn’t make any difference ‘. We reap what we sow.’
The result create an entirely new situation. We have to accept this and consider what can be done to ensure that the mayor really is responsive and in control. This is something both supporter and opponents of the mayoral system of governance should be able to agree on.
The Gutting of Labour
Labour will be gutted. There will no doubt be recriminations about:
- the failure of the Party to recognise the threat posed by the DEMOC campaign when it first started;
- the ridiculous over wordy leaflet which is likely that few people read and which looked sufficiently like advertising material to have been thrown straight in the bin.
The consequences could be:
- demoralisation among the few activists that remain meaning fewer people involved in canvassing in the lead up to the May elections leading to fewer Labour Councillors being elected
- an increase in faction fighting
- resignation of many members
If demoralisation among Cabinet members and backbench Councillors about continuing to improve the Council sets in, they may fail to satisfy the Government appointed Improvement Panel, and be unable to have a balanced budget from next April. The Government could send in commissioners to run the Council before May, and therefore the mayor and Councillors election in May will be a waste of time.
Choosing Mayoral Candidates
Now that there will be an elected mayor the Labour and Conservative Parties will now have to decide who will be their candidates. Could it be Jason Perry, the current Tory Leader, or Steve Reed, the MP, given his previous experience as Leader of Lambeth Council, or Jamie Audsley, who has not accepted on to the Labour list of potential Council candidates for May?
There might also be independent candidates, among whom I would include a Green and a Liberal, whose leading spoke persons both opposed an elected mayor. Andrew Kennedy raises some interesting points about independents on Historic Croydon.
‘There will now be frenzied activity by all political parties to find a person who is electable. Probably a well known personality with previous political experience. There may be many independents wishing to stand but unless you are a Martin Bell type character or a TV personality who stands out a mile, you are unlikely to win and you will be only watering down the total independent vote and allowing one of the major parties and the usual suspects to get elected. Yes I believe an independent mayor could be good but not possible if 20 other independents stand, watering down the vote. Please don’t stand unless you’ve got a realistic chance of winning through the supplementary vote system.’
Limits On The Mayor
Whoever is elected as Mayor will have little freedom of action.
If Government commissioners are not in control by May the mayor will have to work to the budget approved by the current Labour administration in agreement with the Government for the year from next April.
The mayor will have to continue the current Government approved Labour improvement plan and only be able to change it if the Government appointed Improvement Panel agrees. The threat of commissioners will hang over the mayor like Damocles sword.
Clearing The Decks
There an enormous number of problems and issues at local level that need to be sorted, but which are frustrated by the negativity and non-responsivness of many specialist officers, who create more work for themselves because of the time that people have to waste trying to chase up action. Councillors for both parties only have 5 months to get action taken. They need to draw up their lists in consultation with local organisations. If they cannot get the officers to act by May or include them in action plans for 2022/3 then local organisations should press the mayor to consider whether disciplinary action should be taken. The culture of action starts at the top, so the delivery record of the Chief Executive Officer and the Directors should be part of this. Whoever is mayor must make it clear from the start that the officer machine is there to serve.
The Local Plan Review
One positive thing the mayor could do is to insist on a more responsive attitude by the Strategic Planning team at the examination of the proposed revised Local Plan. In the coming weeks the current Cabinet will approve the draft be the consultation is due to start late this year. It will then approve any changes resulting from the consultation and submit the proposed Plan to the Secretary of State early next year. It will then be examined by an Inspector during next summer.
The mayor should make the opening statement for the Council at the examination saying that s/he will ensure that the Strategic Planning officers will be more positive about their responses to proposals put by Croydon organisations and individuals and be more open to modifications being made. I would expect the mayor to attend some of the sessions to hear the discussions, and be consulted by the officers about proposed modifications. The mayor should make the statement towards the close of the examination setting out the modifications.
Mayor Will Be Responsible For The Cuts
Some sections of Labour may breathe a sigh of relief that they will no longer be responsible for the cuts programme. They may relish being free to criticise the mayor if s/he fails to improve the monitoring and the culture change of the way the bureaucracy works, without having any power to require the mayor to act.
There are lots of issues for all those involved in community development and organisations to consider about a totally new approach to the way the Council relates to local communities. They need to consider what they will do to motivate more people to become actively involved instead of just moaning. It may be possible to draw up a community manifesto to lobby mayoral candidates about the changes needed in Council community engagement. Ideally I would want to see a demand a complete re-structuring of the Council once the requirements of the Government under the budget agreement come to an end to create multi-disciplinary teams of officers accountable to joint Committees of the ward Councillors and local community organisations.
Borough Of Culture 2023
Once in office in May the mayor will only have seven months before the start of the Borough of Culture 2023. The Mayor should convene a Borough of Culture ‘committee’ with the Croydon Cultural Network to assess the progress being made in the planning and to ensure that the aims for the year like the key role of activities at neighbourhood level are being supported.
Short Term Memories About Conservative Rule
It is likely that the Conservative mayoral candidate will devote a lot of time to criticising Labour’s mismanagement of the Council from May 2014. To counter balance that there will need to be a critique of the mismanagement of the Council by the Conservatives up to May 2014, including of the role of the candidate if they were a Councillor at the time, and their lack of effective opposition since then.