Cautionary tale of mayoral vote

From: Dave Walsh, Rotherfield Avenue, Bexhill

The Community Governance Review seems to have generated a fair amount of heat around many issues, especially a lack of explanatory literature, as the Bexhill Observer letters page suggests (The audacity of our council never fails to amaze me, Michael Crotty, 25/8/17). The Rother deputy leader has apparently made it clear that only an “overwhelming response” would result in any change – difficult to achieve without full information perhaps. Twenty years ago I didn’t expect that much in East Sussex having come from a more urban part of Great Britain, but the deferential Fiefdom I found was a real shock.

I fear that the standards gap has now very much narrowed between town and country so I can’t be smug anymore, but here is a cautionary tale all the same. I hope it helps and advises. The issue is different but the concerns are the same.

A few years ago, in my home town, one councillor forced a referendum through under the new Government legislation by garnering enough signatures. The issue in question was whether to introduce a change to the mayoral nomination system which would mean that candidates would no longer need to be affiliated to a political party. This was a relatively long time ago so there were the usual three PLPs, as front runners, in place. The Tory, Labour and Liberal leaders, were all male, looking pretty much the same, white, stocky-no hair and they had previously agreed that a democratic debate would be a good thing.

When an actual vote appeared over the horizon however, things changed. They were then thrown into a very obvious panic as their power base was actually being challenged. The immediate ensuing relief, when the vote for change was lost in the end, was palpable. The leader of the council, far from showing any magnanimity in victory, then used the local press to declare that the low turn-out (18 per cent) proved that the electorate had never shown any interest in a different system all along. You could detect the arrogance in the very printed word itself.

I then immediately wrote in to point out that, in fact, the number of people voting had been above the average for a Local Government Election and that, actually, over 40 per cent of the electorate HAD voted for change and they very nearly won the day! You may think that this sorry tale was bad enough yet the council then surcharged their OWN member for the eye-watering amount of money (£120k). This apparently represented the expenses incurred by holding a legal referendum, initiated democratically by an elected representative. The amount of money wasted in other directions could be another bed time story.

There is, of course, no direct comparison to be drawn here between the current Bexhill and Rother initiative. The financial demand made then quietly disappeared (along with the councillor) but as the early Duty Sergeant used to say in NYPD Blue, “Be careful out there!”

From the Bexhill Observer, 8th September.

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