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Don’t elect a pig-in-a-poke – Guest post by Cllr Michael Wilkes

Don’t elect a pig-in-a-poke – Guest post by Cllr Michael Wilkes

🕔26.Mar 2012

A guest post by Michael Wilkes, Lib Dem councillor for Hall Green and former Lord Mayor.

There is a very powerful case, some of which I have set out elsewhere that Birmingham does not need a directly elected, executive mayor. And my colleague Cllr James Hutchings has with great eloquence established the case against in public fora. I hope that with these and other contributions people will find the ‘no’ case convincing.

The imported concept of a city boss for Brum is a pig-in-a-poke not simply because the Government has held out the prospect of more powers without saying what they may be but because the incumbent of such a post, virtually non-dismissible, could be anyone from a legitimate figure to Uncle Tom Cobley – or much worse.

As a young man I lived for a while in Chicago under the mayoralty of the original and notorious Mayor Daley. I lived just round the corner from the site of the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in a block of flats that backed on to a graveyard. In most elections the turnout (as it were) from the graveyard was widely believed to be higher than that of the general population!

I am not suggesting that this sort of thing is still widespread in the US – indeed I am acquainted with a mayor of a US city who does a first class job. But there is a very mixed pedigree for a position that concentrates so much power in the hands of an individual who may turn out to be a surprising and unconventional choice especially when there is a low turnout or with lax, nationally controlled, voting arrangements as we know to our cost in our city.

We do not need a ‘Boris’ nor will we get one. Boris does not have a lot to do aside from grandstanding. All the hard municipal service delivery is done through the London boroughs. This is the work that is currently done by the city council led by ten senior and experienced councillors. It should remain so – or even better re-instate a (refreshed) committee system. This was the arrangement that made Birmingham ‘the best run city in the world’ under Joe Chamberlain – who was an elected councillor like all the others – with the public interest at the heart of all that they did.

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