Friday, January 27, 2012

Salford Referendum And Democracy

I'm not convinced that elected mayors add anything to local democracy, it seems to me just another busybody to mither and badger the local populace and get a good wedge of cash in the process. Having said that, Blair's attack on local democracy with the introduction of the cabinet system probably made elected mayors seem an attractive proposition to a few. And the nub is 'the few'.

It may be a problem with our first past the post electoral system, but the best way for smaller parties to win is to look at alternative routes to being elected. UKIP manage to scrape into the European Parliament through that particular form of proportional representation. Whereas in recent local by-elections, under FPTP, they have averaged 1% of the vote. Ironically for an anti-EU party they only have reasonable representation in an undemocratic sham of a parliament that they profess to oppose. I'm sure they aren't in it for the pot of cash to be had!

The only success for the English Democrats was when they managed to get their candidate elected Mayor of Doncaster, a huge shock in 2009 even for the English Democrats. So as they are unable to get elected under FPTP they are now busily campaigning for elected mayors.

Yesterday the people of Salford voted to have an elected mayor. I say 'the people of Salford', in reality only 18% of the people of Salford bothered to vote in the referendum. 17,344 voted yes while 13,653 voteed no. The city's  electorate is 171,000.  My maths is diabolical but I guess that means that around 10% of the people eligible to vote actually voted for a mayor. The whole exercise cost over £200,000. Hardly an overwhelming show of civic desire for yet another well paid politico. The referendum was called following a petition organised by the English Democrats.

There is an argument that if people don't bother to vote in elections then tough. But we do need to ask questions of a system that produces results such as this. Yes, if people don't bother to vote they can't complain. But on the other hand if a referendum campaign can only produce a turnout of 18% can it be said to have been effective in engaging with the electorate? Or is it politicos taking advantage of apathy for their own gain?

I support the principle of referenda, when called for by a percentage of the electorate in a referendum, but there has to be a limit. The 5% of signatures currently required on a petition to trigger a mayoral election is too low, it should be 10%. There should also be a threshold of at least a 51% turnout for the vote to be binding. If the politicos can't stimulate that level of interest among the electorate, then their wishes deserve to be ignored.

Sadly, if our system of democracy was more transparent and open, with elected politicians who were  responsive to the electorate rather than party whips, we wouldn't actually need the safety valve of referenda. Maybe it's time we had a serious root and branch look at our whole system after years of tinkering and fiddling by Blair/Brown and the undemocratic European Union.

Oh, and don't forget, it was the good people of Salford in 2010 who re-elected that giant of political probity Hazel Blears. If you want to see what I really think of Blears just click on this link or click on Hazel Blears in the labels list below this post. 'Frederick Oakley' be warned, it is extremely venomous and will upset you!


Anonymous said...

I always think that it is easier to manipulate one individual person than a cabinet, or whole council for that matter.

I feel extremely uncomfortable putting any authority in the hands of one person.

PR and referenda on important civic issues seem to me to be necessary; we can't just vote them in and expect them to stick to their promises anymore.

Daz Pearce said...

Frequent referenda = mob rule, surely?

I'm sure we could whip up a minority of the population who would support all sorts of vile measures you might find in a banana republic - the banning of certain religions for one.

The idea of a 51% threshold is a good one, since very, very few questions would meet it.

Didn't the Hartlepool United monkey win their mayoral election? Kinda says everything you need to know on that subject.

And thanks for mentioning Hazel Blears, Gregg - by the way, I'd just eaten...

Gregg said...

Sorry about that Daz. The sight of Blears does tend to induce projectile vomiting doesn't it?

I agree BJ, which is why I favoured, and still do, the old committee system of local government rather than cabinet.