13/04/2012 Newsnight


Emily Maitlis asks a political panel and live studio audience to debate what elected mayors could mean for democracy in the UK.

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Politics, activism, and apathy, there is ten English cities


preparing to ask if they want to be led by a mayor. We dedicate this


programme to who should represent us and how. Would directly elected


mayors bring greater democracy or more showbiz politics? Our studio


audience comprises representatives of numerous political parties and


of none. If you vote, we will clean up Bristol. Bristol is one of the


places deciding to have a mayor, more power to the people, or more


power in one person's hands. For all the noise in the debate in


the Bristol lunchtime sunshine, draw back a bit and you can see


only about 50 people here, some of whom have been clearly distracted


in their lunch hour by the noise. George Galloway stormed Bradford,


while Westminster slept, are our politics out of step with our needs.


And, if the ballot box doesn't work, does the future lie in protest,


petition, and the odd projectile. Good evening. Take a second to


write down the name of your council leader.


Done, excellent, don't worry if you can't, you will be in the company


of about 80% of the population. Next month ten English cities will


be asked if they want an alternative, in the form of a


directly elected mayor. Greater democracy or a cult of personality


politics. In a moment we will be looking at how we are represented,


with the Government minister responsible for our cities, and an


audience of many minor parties, and of no political affiliation at all.


Have we outgrown our political system? A problem of analog


politics for a digital age. Bristol certainly has an impressive


past, but, what sort of future is in store for this city?


Well, like ten cities across England, in the immediate future,


there is a referendum on whether to have an elected mayor.


Bristol has always been an outward looking city. It was from here that


in the 15th century John Cabot sailed to discover New Foundland,


from then on the city earned its fortune trading with the rest of


the world. History tell us us doing some disreputable things, but


nevertheless, supporters of a directly-elected mayor say having


this will give it the entreprenurial spirit that made it


so wealthy in the past. This is not the time for intellectual debate,


it is old fashioned politics. Perhaps Bristol is saving itself


for a big finish in the referendum campaign. By all accounts so far,


the debate hasn't gripped the city in a frenzy of mayor fever. This is


one of the most exciting ideas you could imagine. In an effort to


introduce a bit of heat and light, the group at Bristol Speakers'


Corner is hold ago debate. A mayor will be able to attract more fans


to the city. Heading up the yes campaign in favour of a mayor is


Jaya Chakrabarti. In a nutshell, why should Bristol have a mayor?


Bristol has had seven changes of leadership in the last ten years,


which has made it incredibly difficult for anyone making a


change in the city to deal with the council. The council controls the


city. Our leaders have tried to instigate change, we have tried to


have an arena, a stadium, improve education and the transport system,


we have some how failed to punch at our weight, let alone above.


new mayor's powers have to come from somewhere, mostly they will be


shipped out of the building behind me, that is the City Council. Not


surprisingly, the City Council is kind of where most of the


opposition to the new position is concentrated.


The council has got into trouble producing a leaflet telling voters


about the referendum, that the Government says isn't impartial.


Nevertheless, councillors on the no side say having a mayor could lead


to the politics of personality and gimmicks. Isn't there someone from


Bristol who could step up and be a leader of this place, who wouldn't


perhaps be attracted to climbing the greasey political pole, which


is what you have to do to become leader of the council. In the past


we have people like Cary Grant, now it is bald drik. The students would


get on board there and they could possibly win, that is a danger.


People might choose the wrong person? Yes, purely on the subject


of personality. That's not a trust the people message, that is not an


optimistic message about the capacity of the public to pick


somebody? Unfortunately here in Britain we have one of the worst


levels of participation in politics. It is true, some parts of the


country have picked some interesting characters to be mayor.


The man in the monkey suit in Hartlepool, for example. There is


no sign of Bristol being about to follow suit. There is no sign,


really, of Bristol about to do anything.


For all the noise of the debate here in Bristol, draw back a bit


and you can see actually how sparsely attended it is. You


suspect that a few of the people on the periphery here have just come


along to see what all the commotion is about. That is part of the


problem. There is no massive appetite for these changes to how


cities are run. The Government spent two months at


the end of last year consulting on the question, of what can a mayor


do for your city? They weren't inundate with replies, they only


got 58, but once you strip away those from public bodies like


councils, or interested individuals, like MPs, well, there were only 19


members of the public who bothered to reply.


Two big things are happening in my view, not just in terms of city


governance, but in terms of Britain's politics as a whole. The


first is, people are now pretty disgusted with politicians. Our u


gof research shows this, 60% think politicians lie all the time. That


is a terrible verdict. The second thing, increasingly people don't


feel that political decisions make much difference to them. They think


whoever will be elected will not affect their lives very greatly.


They are open to somebody with the appeal of to say they are different,


clean, not a normal politician, and because they are outside that


normal party stranglehold of politics, I can do things


differently and make your life better.


In Bristol, there are various names being bandied about, independent of


the political parties. One belongs to a prominent local architect, and


restauranteur. Rumour has it you are Bristol's


Michael Bloomberg! Well, I'm just me, you know. You want a mayor?


very keen on us having a mayor, and an independent mayor, rather than a


party political one. Some people suggest that should be you? Some


people do. Any interested? I have said I might. I think it would be a


fantastic project. I'm passionate about Bristol, it is a great city.


I think it's the most interesting city outside London. But it doesn't


punch above its weight. Thank you everybody, vote, vote, vote. Don't


vote, boycott. So the debate comes to an end. It


is not clear if anyone's mind has been changed. Most of the city


doesn't seem to have noticed. One problem here is people are being


asked to vote, without actually knowing what precise powers the


mayor would have. Our studio audience represents the


three main parties, as well as UKIP, the Green Party, BNP, the English


Democrats, and Respect, and people with no affiliation at all. We have


Greg Clark, Lord Adonis, who favours the move to elect mays, and


Jon Lansman, who finds it elitist. Why are you against mayors?


heard the argument, only one in seven people can name the leader of


their council, or claim to, and half of them get it wrong. Bristol


is the only major provincial city outside London that has GDP per


head higher than the EU average. The fact we have such weak


leadership in our cities, it is costing our cities and country dear.


You can't have democracy unless people know who it is they are


putting in charge and they can hold them to account. It is about


replacing weak leaders? We heard how the public aren't very


interested in constitutional reform. If we are going to promote


constitutional reform, they need to be about making politicians more


responsive to the public. This doesn't do that. At the moment a


lot of these councils have elections every year, or almost


every year, three out of four. The political groups re-elect their


leaders every year. What we are going to be doing here is directly


electing mayors who will be there for several years, with enormous


powers, which will require two- thirds majorities to overturn, they


will be dispensing lots of salaries and there are very few checks and


balances. We don't know what powers they will have, what do you


envisage? The powers they will have are the powers that the City


Council has at the moment. And be very clear about that. There will


be no difference then? Let me explain, the City Council in


Bristol has exercise of over a billion pounds of spending. That is


a huge A money. That is more than most Government departments,


smaller Government departments have access to. That power will be


vested in a mayor, it will make the Mayor of Bristol, and I dare say


the Mayor of Birmingham and other cities, the most powerful voices in


their region. Powerful more than many maebs of the cabinet. Is it


possible they will have no more powers than council leaders?


will start like that, as you have seen in Scotland and London, is


once you have a strong voice, the next thing is what further powers


they can have. I'm keen to build up that voice. Like what? Over


transport, for example. Rather than the Department of Transport making


transport decisions in London, I think they should be made locally.


Let's talk to somebody who has experience of this.


You were the young Mayor of Lewisham, what was that like, did


you feel a connection with the people you represented? I feel it


was interesting, you were put in a position where you have to be


accountable to the people. The fact I was still going to college and


around the young people who voted for me. It was interesting to hear


their viewpoint, and make sure what I was doing was making their lives


better. I think the idea of having an elected mayor, will keep people


accountable in terms of those positions. It is important to make


sure people stay involved in politics, not just voting, but


going to local assemblies, and making sure they are holding people


in power to account. That is a simple argument to understand.


Chris, you were a mayoral candidate b you now oppose that, why would


you oppose that? Very simply because you are putting huge powers


into the hands of one individual person, which I believe is


thoroughly anti-democratic, but also now, we have mayoral elections


have devolved into a personality contest. People are being elected


on the ground of their personality, in the north-east we have three


elected mayor, two of whom whom were elected on their personality


with no knowledge of local Government. I would say that


neither of them have contributed as a mayor, they enjoy the position


but don't use it. Interesting, if you take the position of Doncaster,


where your party, the English Democrats are in power, they are


having a rem referendum about whether they want a mayor any more.


It has worked, the people going for having this referendum are Labour


councillors who feel that they are excluded from running the council,


which they feel is their God-given right for Doncaster. In effect,


they are objecting to the current situation, which was voted for by


the people of Doncaster. James, you are not a Labour councillor, but


you may come to this from the Conservative perspective, you are


resisting this kind of change, right? For lots of reasons. I think


the gentleman at the back had some of the things absolutely right. It


is putting too much power in one person's hands, with less


transparency, less opportunity for corruption, but it is getting away


from our traditional British system of representational democracy. I'm


not sure if it is going to lead us to a presidential system nationally


our system is tried and tested, it works well, it has checks and


balances and it keeps the leaders on their toes. Under the mayoral


system, they have four years, even if they make a mess of it you can't


get rid of them. A quick show of hands, which of you feel that a


mayor would lead to a personality politics situation? I think it is a


good thing. I quite agree. majority of you think it would, and


it would be a good thing. What's an election? What is an election?


are going to put that, would it be such a bad thing, you were talking


about a mayor who might not be directly accountable, and go on and


on and on, if the people wanted that and recognised their own mayor,


surely that is a good thing? In an authority, take Newham, where there


isn't a single non-Labour councillor, the mayor there, is a


member of my own party, can be re- elected time after time, and I


suspect he will be, as long as he stands, he personally decides an


awful lot of policies. He dispenses salaries to his cabinet and many


other councils, which is a very good way of getting loyalty, there


simply aren't the checks and balances in the system. It is not


just that there is an directly elected mayor, it is how much power


that has and controls them. sounds like you like the idea of a


personality? Essentially what is an election, an election is who do


people like more. That is about your personality. And what this is


really about is the fact that people are sick of all three of the


major parties. Both are pro-war, all three are pro-war, all three


are pro-cuts, it is an option between cuts light and cuts


immediate, people are going to die because of these cuts, privatising


the NHS. I will come on to that a bit later, about disenfranchisement


if you think it exists. Who here votes according to what they like


in a politician rather than their policies? Esther Rantzen, you stood


at an independent in Luton last year, what did it teach you?


taught me how tribunal politics is, and how sad that -- tribal politics


is, and how sad that is. Depending on the colour of the rosette,


someone is either on your side origins you. In London, as you know,


obviously, we have Ken, and those who like his personality will vote


for him, but, on the other hand, if you don't, and if you think that


Boris is someone with style and panache, you vote for him. That


enfranchises us, that gives us an opportunity to decide what sort of


character, and it is about character. If you substitute the


word "personality", with the word "character", that is what you want,


of your city, town and mayor. We should be voting for the


policies not the colour of their hair. I'm going to bring you in


here, you are standing as an independent in the mayoral contest,


and you have heard the line that it is just a glad -- Gladiatoral


fight? I'm the only independent mayoral candidate, I believe mayors


can be great leaders, I we have to get different types of public


leaders, otherwise the same disillusionment we have heard will


be replicated in London. In London we have not only party politics


pulling us down, but two macho personalities coming down, we don't


hear about policies. Do you want to see more of the Ken and Boris show


around the country? As I report as minister, the Mayor of London, and


Lord Adonis I'm sure would confirm, that the voice of the London


mayorality has been stronger than the voice of other cities around


the country. I think that is not how it should be. I want the great


cities of Britain to speak with a roar, rather than a whisper, as


they do at the moment. It is a huge mistake, I'm a London Assembly


member, I have been scrutinising Ken and Boris over the last 12


years, it is a mistake to assume that what's going to happen outside


in other cities is the same as what's happened in London. In


London you have got a city region with 5.2 million voters, where you


have got a strategic authority that can make genuine strategic


decisions, like bidding for the Olympics, introducing the


Congestion Charge, and making massive changes. All you are seeing


in the other cities, that is on offer, is just bolting on a direct


low elected mayor, to a bog standard council. It won't bring


about the strategic change we need. We actually need regional


Government rather than city Government.


Let's look at the example of Nottingham, right, because that is


also going to be part of a referendum on whether you want a


mayor. You know you are against it. Why, would you like to see big


personalities in a race, or is that what you fear? No, no, no, we don't


want to see big personalities in a race, and we don't fear them. What


we want to see is accountability, coming down to the local level,


where people who walk the street, who talk to local people, who are


elected democratically by their local communities, we want those


people to maintain their role on the council. But a mayor walks the


street, a mayor is more recognised. A mayor is elect, a mayor's


decision can only be overturned by two-thirds of the majority of the


councillors, that then means that actually you can pass a budget with


only a third of the councillor, in my book that is undemocratic.


Very briefly, Lord Adonis? other cities need to emulate London.


Birmingham has a million voters, Birmingham does nationwide to punch


much bigger than it does at the moment. There is no reason why


Birmingham should be looking there, at London as the first city in the


country and saying we can't possibly emulate if it in any way.


It is one of ten local authorities in Greater Manchester, it is a


small bit in the middle. On to the next theme, something fairly


seismic happened last month, George Galloway stuck a metaphor kal and


literal two fingers up to parliament, taking Bradford West by


storm. Has the three-party system of


politics had its day, is it time for the smaller parties to


breakthrough. Nigel Farrage, if you look at the polls now, the three


main party leaders are at a massive all-time low, why aren't we seeing


smaller parties like UKIP? Look at what's happening in Northern


Ireland and Scotland over the last 20 years, the only thing keeping


the party system together in England is the "first past the


post" system in the elections. have looked at that?


alternative we were offered wasn't actually in any way a PR system.


That's what's holding it together, there is massive change happening.


I really do feel, if you look at the opinion polls, you have said it


yourself, small parties are growing very, very quickly. It may be Ken


and Boris, fighting it out in London, two big giants from two big


parties, but I suspect, as mayoral contests develop across the country,


you will see fewer Tory and Labour leaders.


You are from George Galloway's party, was that just about his


charisma? His personality, you don't think that Respect can


emulate that across the country, do you? I think there is huge


potential for Respect to emulate it across the country. What we showed


in Bradford was four out of ten voters voting for one of the three


main parties, that is because there was a clear line of division


between what Respect stood for, against the war and the cuts, and


what the three many parties stood for, which are different degrees of


the same platform. Do you think with a mayoral system


the BNP has more chance of gaining power? Yeah, we have got a chance.


We have got a fantastic candidate, the only foreign candidate,


Uraguayan born Carlos, he is a fantastic gie, we are doing very


well on the doorsteps, on election night you will be very surprised at


how well we are doing. I would like to ask the panel, if they are happy


with all the Hustings they have, that there is only two or three


parties there, there is seven mayoral candidates. And that is why


you are represented here. It is not about Boris and Doris, there is


seven of them, and we should all get a fair crack of the whip.


Let me put the question to you, Greg Clark, if the BNP chose the


mayoral stratta of politics to rise, would you welcome that? I trust the


British people, I think they would see through them. The debate that


is are being had across the country, I think will expose that, I can see


See that happening. When Ken Livingstone won in London first, he


won against a Labour candidate asen independent. Darren Johnson's


ratings are ahead of the party in lon -- Boris Johnson's ratings are


above the party. Let's ask a disenfranchised voter,


Angela Thomas, when you listen to the argument and it is about where


we put our vote, would you be more inclined to vote for the smaller


parties now, do you feel there is more affiliation? Not necessarily,


in my experience, what I have seen happening, would lead me to suspect


that the smaller parties, when they get into power, we have seen it


with the Liberal Democrats getting into Government, perfighting


against -- they are fighting against a system, they can't follow


through on the promises and make the changes. I inherently mistrust


the way the system is set up against the small parties. I just


think that the whole thing is a distraction. I suspect that the


mayoral, directly-elected mayoral campaign is a way of drawing far


away from the main parties. In that way it is serving a role for the


Conservatives and for the Labour Party.


You have to come back to the key issue of what mayors will do, the


reason for electing mayors is they will lead the cities more


effectively than they are led at the moment. We need to get real


about this. The big problem our major cities outside London have is


they are poor. They have been poorly led, they have generally


speaking a good deal of improvement needed in their public services,


they have far too few private sector jobs, the further north you


go the bigger problem it is. We need strong democratic leaders who


can bring jobs and better public services to our cities.


We have this talk aboutic leaders, really we need to look at what


democracy means. We are thinking of this in a flawed framework, this


whole conversation is flawed, because democracy isn't about


putting an X in a box every so often, every few years, democracy


is a real politics, which doesn't actually exist. How many of you


have not ever voted at a ballot box? I'm not 18 yet. The most


important thing for everyone to understand is Iraq under occupation


a higher percentage of the people voted in their elections, than any


general election which has been here for a long time. This idea of


democracy in this country is pretty much a joke. If we are really,


really going to engage with the issues, you know many tears have


been cried over George Galloway's victory, the difference is he


speaks with people rather than at them. Let's go to Furqan Naeem, you


operate in Bradford, add mittedly at a student level, were you


surprised by the decision in Bradford? It did take me by


surprise. I was on the ground in Bradford, I saw on campus how young


people and students really got involved in politics for the first


time. It shows that young people and students, they care about more


issues that affect them, rather than party politic. At the moment


party politics now needs to resonate with young people and care


about issues to do with them. In terms of the mayoral elections,


with them taking place, one thing will happen is the mayors that will


come in place, they will have to touch base with the young people


and students and listen to the grass roots and their thought. That


will bring in more accountability and transparency, which young


people want. People say they are feeling disillusioned with the


three main parties and they want other voices heard, if you put all


your powers into the hands of one person, it is impossible for other


voices to be heard. We need to look at other ways of reforming local


Government, if we introduce proportion national representation


we get a better spread of opinion locally. If we move away from the


ballot box, we look at protest, pressure groups, we look at


whatever it is that activates people, he want to hear your story,


Fahim Alam, it is unique, I think it is unique, you were wrongly


convicted of rioting last summer? wasn't convicted, I was acquitted.


You spent six weeks in jail, that experience has presumably changed


how you see the establishment and the political system now? No, I


felt the same as I have felt previously. I want to go back to


what my friend over here said about disillusionment, the problem is


that people aren't disillusioned with politicians, politicians are


disillusioned with the people. And when the people came out on the


streets during the riots, and during student protests, they


showed that he they were fully engaged with politics, and in fact,


the politicians are not engaged with them at all.


So the whole idea of apathy is lazy? You can't link the riots to


that. Most of the rioting we saw. Those were political acts. I think


it is important that people, that mayoral candidates now in


particular do need to reach out to all sections of society. This is


what we are fed up of hearing. The elite, white men, speaking. You are


holding the same interests, that is the way you want to see it.


Speaking apparently for the people. There are some women and older


people here, I'm fed up with everybody saying we have to engage


young people. The people. Women are the exception. The people who vote


conscientiously and consistently are older people, that is because


we do not think democracy is a joke, we think democracy is very, very


serious. Democracy is about voting. You think democracy is about voting.


Young people would vote for you. Excuse me a second young man, not


to be patronising in any way. What we need in our great cities is


talent, I don't think committees necessarily throw up talent, I


think it would be possible for entrepeneurs, people like that


architect we heard, people from the medical profession, people with


real skills could take a city by the scruff of its neck and say.


Everybody has real skills. No. political process is deemed


irrelevant. To people. If it is about getting talented


people. They could stand as councillors now.


It needs personality so people will vote for them.


Let me go to James, he's the only one who is quiet. Why can people


not name their council leaders, why do we hear this continual reference


to weakness of leadership and lack of talent, what is the council


doing wrong? Lots of reasons, I don't think it is entirely fair to


blame the leadership. Secondly, we don't have enough talent, that is


true. Because there is not enough power? It is a difficult job to be


a councillor. It is a boring, boring job. The power has gone to


Westminster, during the 1980s we took away from local Government a


lot of their ability to affect the lives of people living in their


towns and cities, and it was handed to Westminster. That is why people


don't vote in local elections. is true, it is longer ago than the


80s. It is a longer period of time. You can't suddenly push people into


a job that is extremely difficult, extremely demanding with very


little reward. Would you be more likely to vote


for a councillor or a mayor? would be more likely to vote for a


person who came and spoke to me. I have had my card on my mantle piece,


and not one person has come to spoken to me. A councillor is more


likely to speak to you than a directly-elected mayor. In


Birmingham there are 120 councillors, one directly elected


mayor, who you will not see. will not get anything done unless


people know who it is that is leading them. Everyone knows who


the Prime Minister is, everyone here knows who the Mayor of London


is, virtually no-one knows who the leader of their local council is.


More people inest mo of the cities outside the city, know who the


leader of London is, the Mayor of London is than their own


councillors, this is the problem we have.


If elected mayors are such a good idea, we have had three elected


mayors in the north-east for nine years or more, you tell me what


advantage that has been. Greg Clark you have the last word.


The leader in Middlesborough is more known than the leader of


Newcastle. Birmingham is the second city in UK, the size of the council


is the biggest in Europe, the idea that there are people of talent in


Birmingham doing a fantastic job. You are seeing, before the


referendum, members of the Shadow Cabinet, people wanting to quit


their role of MP in order to lead the city. The current leader of


Birmingham City council, our Conservative colleague, said he


could do a better job as mayor than leader.


We have run out of time tonight. That is pretty much it for this


evening, the review show in a moment. The Icelandic capital has


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