The councillor who is Merry by name, but not so Merry by nature…

In Salford, soon to have its population swelled by the BBC (or at the very least an increase in taxis to and from Manchester Piccadilly), there’s going to be a referendum on the thorny issue of whether there should be an elected mayor.

Salford City Council has confirmed that it has received a petition calling for a referendum over whether a directly-elected mayor role should be created in Salford. What’s more, the petition has in excess of 10,000 signatures, and the council has verified that five per cent of Salford’s voters are among those who have signed.

The campaign has been spearheaded by a local shopkeeper called Geoffrey Berg, who says he was prompted by being fed of high council taxes. Whether a directly-elected mayor can lead to a reduction in council tax is, of course, not a given.

In an age where politicians will frequently bemoan the lack of interest in local politics, you might assume that the councillors in Salford would be delighted by such interest in the democratic process.

But if you do assume that, then you’ll be surprised by the quotes given to the Manchester Evening News by council leader John Merry:

“We are going to have to find at least another £150,000 to £200,000 in cuts.

“We’ll have to cut elsewhere in order to fund the costs of a referendum.

“It doesn’t achieve a single one of the objectives Mr Berg’s claims and will add to the costs of running the council.”

Can we take it as red that Coun Merry isn’t keen on a directly-elected mayor? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a shame that he seeks to criticise someone for prompting a referendum. It’s hardly easy to force a referendum – 10,000 signatures isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to muster.

This is also the same Coun Merry who, less than a month ago, was calling on people in Salford to show their civic pride in Salford and stand up against the rioters. At the launch of the predictably-named ‘I Love Salford’ campaign, he said:

“It’s been great to see this level of civic pride and we want to show that our city has a lot to offer.”

Surely with civic pride comes an interest in how the city is served/governed? You can’t have it both ways. For what it’s worth, I like the idea of an elected mayor, and I like the idea of an elected mayor requested by voters, not political parties, even more.

What price public interest in the democratic process?

 

4 comments

  1. I think you’re ignoring a few possibilities here. There’s an argument that referendums are an anti-democratic device in the first place – I made it here:
    http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/12/13/why-referendums-should-be-banned/

    I’d say the same both for the use of petitions to demand policies and the notion of single elected officials – I’ve not made them in the same detail but if you think about the classical notion of representative democracy, I’m sure you can work out what they are for yourself.

    Until very recently, the main political parties all shared my view on this, and most political scientists still do. It’s odd that democracy has become debased by the populist version of it, and few leading politicians seem to understand the theory behind why elected representatives are the best agents for democratic decision-making in the first place.

    1. Are they the best agents or are they the worst when it comes to voting on things which would potentially change things, for them, for the worse? Getting a petition of 10 people is easy so basing a referendum on that sample would be wrong. But 10000 is much harder. Surely if 5pc of the population speak, councillors should listen? If that 5 per cent turned up at a meeting, they would.

  2. I do feel you should have done a little more research on the Salford referendum . Mr Berg who organised the petition is not a resident of Salford and only started collecting signatures after he was served a notice requiring him to renovate a shop he owned . Furthermore we have received complaints about people being misled as to what they were signing . There is no provision in law for signatures to be removed. Finally I can assure you as your reporters will testify generally a happy smiley sort of person

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. On my research, I did do a fair bit, including looking for the council’s full response to the referendum and the issues you raise weren’t in any comments issued by the council. As for being Merry – I’m very pleased to hear it!

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