Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Bradford Mayor Referendum - Party speeches

Hiya!  This is a temporary post to allow Guardian Northerner readers to read the full text of speeches on the elected mayor vote in Bradford by local representatives of the main parties.  Here we go:

Councillor Simon Cooke – Conservative Party

Bradford should have a directly elected mayor and actually if you want a person who could be that mayor you could ask for no one better than the man who saved this building, John Pennington. But I’m going to start with the most important part of this debate which is the need for a mayor, the need to change the system of government in this city because that’s much more important than the issue of personality, or the issue of who that mayor should be. Right now, we have an opaque, barely accountable approach where who leads the city isn’t decided by we the people, it’s decided by them the councillors. And it’s decided in closed party meetings, behind closed doors and not through open debate.
You get to vote for a councillor on the basis of candidates dropping a leaflet through your door for you to read, a fortunate few will get a knock on the door saying ‘Vote for me I’m lovely.’ But for a lot people they’ll get one leaflet from one political party and that’s it. That’s not debate. And having voted for a councillor, that councillor gets a vote in secret, in private, behind closed doors to choose their leader. And depending on which votes are up and who’s in and who’s out, that person may or may not get to be leader of the Council.
I don’t consider that to be accountable, transparent or particularly democratic. Which will be all right maybe if people thought the council was doing a mighty fine job, but it isn’t. And it isn’t for the following reasons:
Firstly there is no manifesto for the city that is publicly debated – no list of actions on which the city’s masters can be judged
Just as leadership is decided behind closed doors in private – so is policy. The chief executive of the Council - a colleague in the Council once described as the unelected mayor – he was desperate to maintain a consensus on some important areas of policy – the city centre, education and he didn’t want to have a debate – oh no! How does that serve the city? How do we get better government when policy decisions are made by secret meetings behind closed doors between political leaders?
A mayoral system would change that. Where we had those meetings, these private deals we would have open debate. Where we were officer led we will be led by the public through a contested agenda – we would have a discussion about what’s right for the city and what’s not.
And we’d get more for good or ill, based on the choice of Bradford people – the city would have a face. A man or woman with the ability to bang the table for this city who could put aside the party whip in the interest of the district who is not so beholden to the ward selection committee or a group whip in the way it worksnow. – someone who might be able to be independent of that party pressure in the interests of the Bradford people.
Bradford people would decide who that person was and Bradford people would hold them to account and Bradford people could throw that person out if they didn’t think he would doing a good job
That is why we need a mayor: we need a mayor to get transparency and openness. But above all we need a mayor so we have a more effective government in this city. We have to end the system where us councillors parade from meeting to meeting preening ourselves whilst officers run the show. So my friends, on May 3rd, I will be voting yes for an elected mayor. I will be voting yes, not because I know all the policy answers - all the right things to do. We need to change the way we run our city, we need more openness, more transparency, and above all, we need a sense that the city has chosen someone to take it forward into whatever future faces us all and I hope, above all hope, that its better than the future that is on offer under the present system.
So vote for a mayor on may 3rd and let’s see if we can make this city the great city it used to be.
Thank you very much.

Alyas Karmani – Respect Party 

At Respect we want you to vote yes for a directly elected mayor. So it’s not the first time we’re going to be going against the political establishment, and perhaps not the first time we’re going to beat them as well. What we want to see with a directly elected mayor - we could have a transformation within our city within days and within weeks with a directly elected mayor. And this is a change that we haven’t seen in our city for 20 years.
What we currently have are political hierarchies that are operating at the moment that are paralysing our city. In the next 10 years we’ve got enormous social and economic challenges in our city. We are already in terminal decline I believe and we’re facing a double recession as well. So what have we had in our city at the moment?
At the moment without a directly elected mayor, we’ve had a council that’s been procrastinating, breaking promises. We’ve had failed leadership, an absence of vision as well, and divisive politics. By voting yes for an elected mayor we can transform our city and within days we can have a progressive model of leadership.
It’s interesting that the kind of leadership we’re proposing is a leadership model that exists in many many cities around the world and clearly we see the success
taking place in those cities.
By voting yes for a directly elected mayor, we’re voting yes for a powerful passionate local champion who will be a voice for all of the city and also a champion for all of the city as well.
If you ask most of the people out there on the streets, who is the leader of Bradford City council? Most people are really hard pressed to find out who is actually responsible for the decisions that take place in the city. Who is responsible, for example, for our schools being in the 5% worst in the country? Who is responsible for the massive hole that we have in our town? Who is responsible for the higher than national average youth unemployment?
When you ask these questions – all we’re getting is passing the buck. Not only are you having passing the buck - if passing the buck was an Olympic sport I think Bradford could make the Olympic team and win a gold medal – because its nobody’s fault. It’s nobody’s fault why we are in the situation that we are in.
We are in a crisis and we need a radical solution for that. We need a single individual who can make those powerful decisions for us – will be accountable, will be transparent.
Again, in the Little Horton ward where I’m standing at the moment – 50 million pounds of regeneration money was spent in the Little Horton ward. People are asking how was it spent, where was it spent, how were the boundary lines drawn? How were the decisions made? And again, we can’t find anyone to take responsibility for that.
You know I suppose it’s a good thing that we don’t know our council is currently being run by Laurel and Hardy – Reeves and Greenwood. And the reality is that Ian Greenwood, and most people would be hard pressed to find out, that Ian Greenwood is the leader of our council. But why isn’t he here today at such an important discussion? At such an important debate?
Currently our system is not democratic– because the leader of the council is chosen by the elected members not by the people that they serve, not be the whole community here as well. As a result of that – where is the accountability?
Voting yes for a directly elected mayor will unify our city. If we look at the example of Leicester, a city with a very similar social demographic profile to ourselves. Peter Soulsby who was elected two terms there, united the city with a common vision and a common purpose. What we’ve had at the moment are polarizing and partisan politics where we have politics by mafias, by gatekeepers and godfathers. Working in their own silos and building their own empires. We need to dismantle that hierarchy. You know what we’ve also had – and all three of the political parties are guilty for that – is pandering to ethnic block politics –
and as a result of that they actually have been the ones who are most guilty of creating all the community cohesion issues in our city.
So we need a single individual who can actually unite and bring all those individuals together. We want to get away from disproportionality. Why is it that some wards we have resources abundant and others wards that are just neighbouring them, or even in that very ward we have child poverty levels above the national average.
Voting yes for a directly elected mayor will mean that we have the powers to regenerate our city. And we’re so desperate for that. Every day I meet talented people, we have so many assets in Bradford – that’s the entrepreneurs and most importantly our young people are our most valuable asset in this city. Currently those assets are not being harnessed to achieve the regeneration and the development of our city by having those economic powers. And one of them is being able to achieve rate relief. Immediately we could regenerate our town centre by bringing entrepreneurs into our town centre. But most importantly, vote yes for an elected mayor to guarantee our future – our young people.

Councillor Kevin Warnes – Green Party

Thank you for coming out tonight and I’d like to thank the organisers for organising this event.
I’ll be honest with you I think that in some ways the idea of electing a mayor is superficially attractive. Give one person four years and a clear mandate and lots of public support to sort things out and vote them in again if they do a good job then hold them to account if they do a bad job. Get rid of them – let the vote of the people ring out over city hall, fair enough.
The problem is that there are lots of difficulties with the process that we’re embarking on over the next few days.
First most people so far aren’t that interested. I’ve knocked on about 700 front doors in Shipley during the campaign so far and I can tell you that a grand total of 6 people have raised the issue of the elected mayor with me on the doorsteps. In most of the referendums held since 2001, only a third of the electorate actually bothered to vote. 3 months ago in Salford there was a referendum and 18% turned out to vote on the idea of the Mayor. So the idea that referendums are a good way to gauge public opinion on this issue is just wrong. There is just not a huge upsurge of opinion whether we should elect a mayor or not.
The few people who are interested generally don’t want an elected mayor. People vote no in 2/3rds of the referendum that we have had so far in the last decade. There was a Guardian ICM Poll last week that showed 61% opposition to elected mayors, and that cuts across age, class and party affiliation, even most Tory voters don’t want elected mayors and the reason is because they trust their elected councillors more than the politicians in Westminster who have come up with these barmy ideas. Even worse than that is that we’re not even being allowed to make an informed decision despite the best efforts of the organisers tonight. This leaflet I am holding in my hand does not spell out the powers of the elected mayors.
We’ve got a referendum that most people will ignore, on a subject that most people probably will oppose and in these circumstances we can’t even make an informed decision - that does not strike me as intelligent politics.
The Greens do not want elected mayors in Bradford or any other part of the North of England as they concentrate too much power in the hands of one person at the expense of the other councillors and let’s face it we have a lot of good councillors on Bradford Council.
An elected mayor would be responsible for a wide range of areas of policy, including setting the budget and would have significant power, far more so than the current leader of the council and the leaflet does not tell you that it would take a 2/3rds council majority to overrule the mayor’s budget, no matter how bad the budget was.
Compare that with the way in which decisions have been made in recent years where council leaders have had to work with members of their own group and reach out across party lines to get good decisions. I don’t accept that one person has all the answers. I think Councils work best when people and councillors work together to get things done...Just have a look at the nightmare that has unfolded down the road in Doncaster where Mayor Peter Davies was elected 3 years ago as an elected mayor for Doncaster. He got 8% of support for 1st vote – 92% of people in Doncaster either didn’t vote or voted for someone else as their first preference and Davies scraped home and he has been a disaster for the town. When the audit commission was sent in a year later they said “ the mayor lacked the political skills to build and maintain consensus lacked leadership skills and they had to send a new chief executive and 3 commissioners to sort the town out. It is bad enough for a place like Doncaster - what about a place like Bradford with our different urban centres and rural villages and our huge range of income groups and above all our diverse ethnic communities Surely we need a council that represents all of us, with men and women of different backgrounds, not a maverick voted in by a small number of votes who then stands alone for four years.
The truth is anyway whether it’s the mayor or the council, many of the decisions
that affect Bradford are done elsewhere. The budget and much of the money we get comes as strings attached from central government.
It’s not clear that elected mayors lead to huge economic revivals or increase in huge interest in local democracy which is why other cities are trying to get rid of their elected mayors and I would ask u to think very seriously to saying no to one in Bradford and yes to much better decisions from the local councillors you’ve got.

Councillor David Green – Labour Party

The first thing I would like to say that whilst I am a Labour councillor I am not speaking on behalf of the Labour party – there are people who support and oppose mayors within the party.
My personal view and the view of the majority of those in my party is that I oppose the concept of elected mayors.
If there was a groundswell of opinion within this district for an elected mayor, we could have had it anytime in the last 10 years. If a big enough percentage of the people of Bradford wanted an them they could have had a referendum and if it had gone through it would have been the will of the people.
What we actually have is a referendum based on a decision made in Westminster as part of the Coalition agreement. It has not been asked for by the people of Bradford district and that is a crucial thing to remember.
If you are going to have a referendum – ask a straight forward question. If I had a pound for every time I have been asked to explain what the referendum question means by constituents in Wibsey, I could have paid off a considerable chunk of the Greek national debt – people are confused!
I reject the notion of Mr Cameron that they are going to put powers and money and resources and power only into areas that might actually support their pet project. Resources should follow need - not people being blackmailed and cajoled to voting a particular way.
If you’re going to vote for a mayor – vote for a mayor because you believe in it. If you are a government of this nation you give resources to those areas that need it, not those areas that vote what you consider to be the right way.
Bradford is not a city, it is a Metropolitan District, it is made up of towns, villages as well as Bradford City. And for one person to be expected to reflect the views of such a diverse community and such a large geographic community is actually impossible however good the individual is. The services provided by Bradford Council are wide and varied. Yes there are education, regeneration, housing,
parking, landscapes, highways, environment, cleansing - what you are actually expecting to do is having one person to be a master of all trades – that is not going to happen.
The current system we have may not be perfect, but what it does do is allow the council to pick the best out of 90 people to carry out those functions. What it does allow to happen is that your local councillors from whatever party can lobby, cajole and influence policy in line with what local constituents want.
You need to be clear that an elected mayor can ignore the wishes of those local communities, can ignore the wishes of the local councillors that you will continue to represent. They will become a cypher - your ability to influence through the electoral process on a year on year basis will disappear as the mayoral grip from the centre decreases.
You will be left with a situation where the only influence your local councillors will have is to try and block budgets and block projects and that will bring the system grinding to a halt. I would urge you to be very careful what you wish for and I would urge you to think carefully if you want one person far away from the your doorstep making all your decision or do you want to work with a system – where you can annually influence what happens in Bradford and your community. I would urge you to think carefully of the way forward for this city that we live in and we all love.

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland – Liberal Democrats

Thank you very much to the organizers for organising this event. I don’t support an elected mayor – they have tried. They have had power in Bradford for ten years - I think it was John Ryan who started the petition for a mayor in Bradford and there wasn’t a public appetite for it.
There is certainly malaise in the city and there is certainly a problem in politics. There are more people who are members of the caravan club than members of a political party. For someone who has committed 18 years of my life to public service I find that is a real sadness. Another thing I feel very sad about is the complacency of that lack of engagement in politics and the debate about how we want our world to be organised leads to such complacency amongst politicians because if you’ve got a view about us – you need to find out what the view of our politicians is about the public, particularly the 50-60% of people who don’t even bother to turn up to put a cross on the ballot paper. So there is an issue – there’s a malaise, there’s a problem with the system that we have. There’s an issue around councillors - absolutely not picking a fight with anybody in the room – but there is. They’re a variable quality are councillors across the city and that is something that we have to address. The system of politics itself – how do you engage with your politicians locally? How many of you voted at the last local elections?
How many people in this room actually voted at the last local election? (pause for response – almost 2/3rds raised their hands)
I came across a young man who said he voted for the first time, he was nearly in his 50s, voting for the first time. So are mayors democratic? What really worries me as a Liberal Democrat is the amount of concentration of power in one pair of hands.
We’ve seen examples from history where people have made it exciting and people have joined rallies and followed people up and down the streets and we’ve seen the consequences of some of those actions as minority people have become the problem that we need to sort out in order to make everything a much better world.
The Liberal Democrats would take power, and we would break it down – the lowest level at which you could make a decision in your neighbourhood. I’ve got two issues with the formulation of the policy – the first is we’re moving to a federal system of government and we’re doing it off the back of a question that nobody seems to understand and most people have not read the leaflet either.
There’s a huge change taking place in the political system and its being pushed by a Prime Minister who says we will threaten you if you don’t do what we say – we will not give you a seat at the table if you don’t do what we say. So the biggest shift in power in the country is taking place off the back of a question we don’t understand and threats being given out into the Yorkshire Post about what will happen to Bradford if it doesn’t have a mayor.
The other issue to me is that mayors are at odds with the other set of policy, which is around the local enterprise partnerships. Whether you think they’re a good thing or a bad thing – they’re in place and they’re working and huge strategic decisions around the place have been taken including people from Wakefield, from Leeds – so what are we going to do with that system? Turn it all on its head? And actually have a series of mayors fighting it out, because they will be fighting it out – and I suspect that they will all be men, and I suspect that they will all be wealthy, which is the other issue about where do people like me and you get involved in politics. Because if power is to be concentrated in the hands of one very wealthy man in this district - where will the voices of ordinary people get heard?
So I would say vote no, I would take power to yourselves in this local election and find out about these people that are putting themselves forward, find out what it is they stand for and then make an informed choice about that. I would say vote no. Thank you.

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