ALEX Storey’s column (Express January 27) argued that Wakefield needs a directly elected Mayor, and that the present arrangements (where we all elect our local councillors and they then elect a ceremonial mayor and a council leader) are undemocratic.
Liverpool’s controversial decision on Tuesday to go for a directly elected mayor without bothering about a referendum, and against a background of a disputed £130m government sweetener brings the issue centre stage.
Unfortunately directly elected mayors are not at all what they’re cracked up to be and Alex’s article may raise more questions than it answers.
1. If democracy really does require political leaders to be directly elected, then why doesn’t the same principle apply to David Cameron?
The answer is that David Cameron is prime minister because he commands a majority in parliament, just as a council leader can rely on a majority in the council chamber.
We’ve seen the consequences in the US when the directly elected President doesn’t have a Congressional majority, and there’s a stand off between a president of one party and a Congress of the other. More locally we’ve seen the chaos that arose in Doncaster when mayor and council are at odds.
2. By what consistent criterion has the government included Wakefield as one of 12 “cities” for an elected mayor?
Kirklees has a population of over 400,000, comfortably larger than Wakefield, even if you include all the Castlefords and Hemsworths and Featherstones, and Kirklees isn’t being lined up for a directly elected mayor, so it can’t be about size.
Hull and York are very definitely cities, both with a full Lord Mayor, elected the same way as Wakefield, and nobody’s pushing either of them to go for direct elections. So if it’s about formal city status, then why are they excluded?
3. Why are people in Doncaster (after 12 years and two different directly elected mayors) now having a referendum to get rid of directly elected mayors and go back to what Wakefield has now?
Under direct elections, Doncaster found themselves with a controversial mayor from a fringe party (elected on proportional representation transfers after coming third on first preferences) in conflict with the council majority, and the resulting chaos led to the imposition of an external supervisory board.
Is that the kind of democracy Alex wants for Wakefield?