CROYDON COMMENTARY: The political campaigning ahead of October’s referendum over a directly elected mayor for the borough is underway, and at least one Croydon Conservative, BEN GADSBY (pictured right) thinks it is a waste of time and money
I have been trying to pretend the referendum for a directly elected mayor isn’t happening, but the campaign group who lobbied to hold the vote in October, DEMOC, delivered a glossy, full-colour leaflet to me today, so I guess it most definitely is.
An upfront declaration of interest – I am one of the few local Tories who think this is a total waste of everyone’s time.
Serious congratulations are due to DEMOC for getting this far though. In Havering, six different residents groups are represented on the council (with at least two more fielding candidates). In Croydon, our residents’ associations instead club together to try and overthrow the system. I assume it’s this collegiality that is attractive to whichever donors are funding the campaign, in hopes of a brighter future.
Regardless of the result, I fear the optimists are destined for disappointment.
As it’s the end of the school year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pretend to be a teacher and mark the “10 reasons why” given in the DEMOC leaflet.
For some reason, the 10 reasons format doesn’t appear in the leaflet, although it does appear as a sponsored post during almost all of my rare trips to Facebook. Donor generosity on full display.
So, 10 reasons to have a mayor for Croydon!
1, A Mayor will be directly chosen by all the people of Croydon
Well, they will be chosen by all the people who vote for the winner, I guess. This gets a point because it is, at least, least correct. Let’s hope it’s not the only good reason to vote for a mayor (spoiler alert – it is).
2, A Mayor will have the same power as the current council leader – but be directly accountable
Great, so at the end of this process we still have one person with the exact same set of powers? Cool. I guess half a point for being accurate, but not a full point because it doesn’t seem to be a reason to have a mayor.
3, A Mayor would need to win support across all of Croydon
4, A Mayor will have to listen to all voters because they want every vote
I think these are the same thing, and amount to MP Chris Philp’s key message for whipping up support in the south of the borough – Labour would need to keep the southerners onside, apparently.
We hear less from Chris about how it would see the Tories need to win support in the north of the borough. Probably because it’s all nonsense.
I’ve run political campaigns, and I can tell you now both parties will focus on turning out more people in their best areas. It will be much easier for Labour to find an extra thousand votes by increasing turnout in Thornton Heath or Crystal Palace than trying to placate Purley. Zero points, on both points.
5, A Mayor will be a high-profile figurehead to negotiate on behalf of Croydon
6, A Mayor will provide leadership and a vision to help Croydon recover
7, A Mayor will improve the status and image of Croydon
More of basically the same arguments, and all are just conjecture. The mayor could opt for a low profile. And in any event, my sense is Tony Newman et al certainly were negotiating on behalf of Croydon, they were just a bit shit at it.
A classic set of political promises: sounds good – but it massively depends on who the mayor is. Hold on to that thought. But I’ll give this a point for having a vision.
8, A Mayor can help protect family homes fairly across Croydon
Also known as Tory Key Message No2.
Someone naughtier than me would insinuate a connection between the well-funded residents’ campaign and a major local political party whose messaging appears so frequently in the DEMOC material. Fortunately, Inside Croydon makes this point often enough, saving me the bother.
Anyway, this is just plain wrong – planning policy is set by the council even in a mayoral system, and permissions will still be controlled by the planning committee. The mayor can be a figurehead though, which is nice, and makes me feel better about giving them the point for that earlier. This gets nul points though.
9, A Mayor would cost no more than the current council leader they would replace
Also unlikely to be true. The Mayor of Newham, for example, gets £86,000 per year compared to the leader of the council in Croydon, which in Newman’s time in charge was £54,000. Since the council’s financial collapse, Newman’s replacement, Hamida Ali, has decided to pay herself slightly less.
And £11,000 of the council leader’s allowances is for them being a councillor – and under a mayoral system in Croydon, there will still be the same 70 councillors. The mayor is an additional person to pay. So unless you’re planning to pay a Mayor about £40,000 (about right for a figurehead, to be fair), this ends up being untrue. No points.
10, A Mayor can be directly removed by the people if they didn’t do a good job
This is true, but once every four years, and only if enough people change their vote. You can also remove the leader of the council once every four years, if enough people change their vote. So again, maybe not a reason to have a mayor for Croydon. No points.
So a final score of 2.5/10 from me.
You can see why I am delighted that we’re spending time on it.
The frustrating thing, of course, is that the problem in Croydon isn’t the system – it’s the leadership. Changing the election process doesn’t necessarily mean you get better leadership.
I know Inside Croydon describes the directly elected mayor proposition as #ABitLessShit.
My bet is what we’ll end up with is #JustAsShit.
Is there an alternative? Probably not.
A lot of local government is #ALittleBitShit and while it’s easy to say we need better people to put themselves forward for election, that’s basically a meaningless platitude, rather like most of DEMOC’s reasons.
But let’s be real – DEMOC isn’t going to improve our community. That needs people and money. I just wish people who evidently care about our community, and their money, hadn’t been led into this cul de sac.
- Ben Gadsby is a member of the Conservative Party who lives in Thornton Heath
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