Having a ‘mare: why our council needs to return to committees

CROYDON COMMENTARY: There’s much wrong with the way our Town Hall business is run, but it won’t be fixed by having a the ‘dictatorship’ of a directly elected mayor, writes ADRIAN DENNIS

So-called directly elected mayors are nothing other than elected dictators for their four years, where they are generally unaccountable to anyone other than getting re-elected after their term, and voters have very short memories.

The Blair era move that saw councils, including here in Croydon, change from a system of having committees to being run by a “strong leader”, with a cabinet of 10 senior councillors, was a retrograde step for democracy. It relegated most councillors to being back benchers with little power, or into the leader’s lackeys, wanting to be part of the inner clique who received financial gains (allowances).

As a committee chair who became a cabinet member, I was acutely aware that the role was very different.

As a chair, you represented a group of councillors, often across both parties who shared a common goal, and you could normally count on their support for pressing for positive improvements in the services for which your committee was responsible. As a cabinet member, you were generally on your own and often in competition with other isolated cabinet members. Those with the biggest political egos or loudest voices won.

This was not missed by council officials, who found greater power by backing their cabinet member against others.

Of Croydon’s 70 councillors, only 10, in the ruling group’s cabinet, having any real say in the way business is conducted

It is not an efficient or democratic way of running a local authority. It was devised by civil servants who I know had no local government experience.

In those days at the council, we would joke that the Tories had a different take on democracy. They had a “One Man One Vote” system, but it was their leader who was the one man with the one vote. It was always a man. It was disappointing to see Labour adopt this one person with the one vote in the “strong leader” model.

Directly elected mayors concentrate that power in one person to an even more extreme level and is undemocratic.

The Inside Croydon article also shows a complete misunderstanding of the current role of our ceremonial mayor, which is not old-fashioned, out of date or Trumptonesque, but plays a very important role in the community. Mayors visit and join in with more than 500 different community groups, schools and other groups, celebrating their vital role in our community, without any politics. This is greatly appreciated by our community organisations and residents and no directly elected mayor undertakes this role. With them it is only about politics and it is a sad day when we have just politics and no soul in our local government.

  • Adrian Dennis was a Labour councillor in Croydon from 1986 to 2006. He was deputy leader of the council from 1997 to 2000. In 2006, he was made an Alderman and, by a unanimous vote of the council, a Freeman of the borough, which, he is at pains to point out, unlike in the City of London, has nothing to do with sheep

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Having a ‘mare: why our council needs to return to committees

  1. Lewis White says:

    I agree with Mr Dennis that a return to the Committee system is overall more democratic, although no doubt there are some very good “strong Mayors” and also many excellent “strong Leaders” and many more very hard working and effective “Cabinet Members”, around the UK, and also no doubt here in Croydon .

    Councillors need to be able to serve the residents of their wards and the greater concerns of a borough. If they end up always following the direction of a group of senior councillors, without a real role in the democratic decision-making of the committee, that is not good for them, nor for the residents of their borough.

  2. Pingback: Old friend speaks out about failed Cabinet system – O'Neills politics

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