Paul Dale, formerly a leading journalist on the Birmingham Mail, is quite right in highlighting the hopeless nature of the ‘No to a Birmingham Mayor’ campaign. There can be little doubt that the ‘No’ campaign has been truly hopeless, although the ‘Yes’ fanatics hardly seem to have much to commend them other than a series of pie-in-the-sky promises and the fact that they seem to endlessly repeat the mantra that a Mayor is a ‘new form of leadership’ as if that in itself trumps the argument. Like those late 90′s Blairites who thought they only had to use the word ‘modernisation’ to get everyone to adopt any bloody daft idea that came into their heads. You could discover a ‘new form of genital warts’, but I doubt many people would rush to acclaim them as truly beneficial.
The comparisons Paul Dale makes with a London Mayor are simply fatuous. The Mayor of Greater London is elected by people from 32 different boroughs, all of which have their own local authorities. The absence of a strategic leadership in London was a clear anomaly from the time Thatcher abolished the GLC in a fit of pique over Ken Livingstone. A Greater London Assembly with the Mayor as its leader bears no sensible comparison to Birmingham or the other cities where a Mayor is being proposed. Birmingham is one Council, and despite the assorted candidates claiming a leadership role across the region, they will have no authority and no powers beyond the Birmingham borders. Politicians and voters from across the West Midlands region will quite rightly point out that the Birmingham Mayor has no democratic legitimacy outside Birmingham.
Dale takes much delight over the fact that 53% of people surveyed support an elected Mayor. 53% of people (out of 59% who knew or cared) in favour of an elected Mayor, despite a 10 year ear bashing by Paul Dale and his former colleagues in the media, and despite a hopeless ‘no’ campaign is, frankly, pathetic.
What I resent more than anything, and I think it will have a resonance with many people, is the absolute self-righteous holier-than-thou-ism of the ‘Yes to a Mayor’ campaigners. That are not just claiming their view is the correct position to take, they proclaim it with a moral certitude of the religious zealot. Anyone with the temerity to adopt an alternative view is ‘a political dinosaur’ or ‘frightened of giving power to the people’. Hence Paul Dale’s comparison between 720,000 electors making an informed choice to ’30-odd councillors in a secret meeting’ some of which may have been promised jobs.
But hang about! Who is likely to choose the Mayoral candidates? Well, it is likely to be one of two categories. There will be those chosen by the media, or those chosen by political parties. In a few instancies it may be the former, and Birmingham has had its share of ‘celebrity’ candidates with not the slightest clue about running a Municipal authority – a local radio presenter, a TV evening news bloke, and Digby Jones, Gawd help us all, and they are the media darlings. Always a quip, quote or ready word for desperate journos with copy to file. In London Boris and Ken make everybody happy by combining the comedian with the political.
On the other hand, in by far the most instancies, the candidates are likely to be chosen by the political parties, with all of the arm twisting, closed room shenanigans and job offers that Paul Dale so easily distances the concept of elected Mayors from. The quaint notion that 720,000 will all club together and come up with some political superhero to turn Birmingham, Bristol or Bradford from dreary provincial cities into bustling international metropolis’ is pure bloody fantasy. Candidates from all quarters may try to persuade us that because they have the absolute power the world’s top financial institutions will be beating down their door with offers of regeneration and future glory… but even they must occasionally wake up in a cold sweat and know they are talking tripe.
The ‘No’ campaign has been truly useless. They should probably just have stuck with a ‘better the devil you know’ campaign. But I’d rather have them than the ‘Yes’ preachers who remind me of the same fundamentalists behind the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign, constantly asserting the same moralistic arrogance that theirs was the true and only path to political enlightenment… only to slink off into the sunset bathing their wounds after those they claimed to speak for gave them a good kicking.
As a democrat, and not a dinosaur, I really do hope the voters do it again.