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Guest post: To Mayor or not to Mayor; that is the question. By Sir Bernard Zissman

Guest post: To Mayor or not to Mayor; that is the question. By Sir Bernard Zissman

🕔01.Jun 2011

Guest blogger Sir Bernard Zissman, veteran Birmingham politician, businessman and former leader of the Conservative group on the  city council, wants to see an elected mayor for the city – not an appointed one

So is the question of an elected mayor for Birmingham on everyone’s lips, is the talk at every dinner table or over every pint in the pub ?

I doubt it, but perhaps it should be. We are heading for one of the biggest changes in local government and civic leadership, and if the Government has its way, we will have foisted on us a shadow Mayor before the end of this year.

I’m in favour of an elected mayor. I understand the arguments against the proposal – and I will explain why I support it.

But before we get that far there is a danger that the idea will be scuppered because of the determination by the Government to pre-judge the result of a referendum by appointing whoever is the leader of the council as an interim mayor.

So why is this so dangerous ? In the event that there might be a change in the electoral balance of Birmingham City Council – and perhaps others too – in the next set of elections  (and I would hope that not to be the case), the interim mayor might seek to govern with a council dominated by another party. No coalition, no agreement, little compromise – just a mess !

And following this – setting aside the undemocratic process of appointing what we are told will be an elected  mayor – the citizens will witness a period of instability.

Little decision, little progress and each argument bigger than the last.

Against this background they will be asked to vote in a referendum: “Do you want an elected mayor or do you not?”

And the most likely outcome? “No we don’t !”

So that’s that, a great idea falling at the first fence because of some stubbornness in Whitehall. Was it ever thus ?

An elected mayor will give our city the kind of leadership it needs and deserves in a shrinking world, instant communication and the urgency of decisions.

The idea that this puts all the power in the hands of one person may seem unacceptable but will not be the case in reality. Birmingham led the country over a century ago, when Joseph Chamberlain might have been considered the first elected mayor, for he changed our city overnight as he drove through giant development schemes, taking in to municipal ownership the gas and the water supplies for the benefit of the citizen.

The Mayor will have a team of – hopefully – well-chosen people of integrity, experience and drive, people who can handle and understand the scale of investment needed, and the mayor’s task will be to lead, inspire, bring forward ideas, and above all, be an ambassador for the council to its citizens and an ambassador of our city to everyone outside the city.

Yes, it’s a huge job and there will be few up to the job. But there are men and women capable and hopefully willing to take a big salary and in return deliver a big job.

They will need a skin thicker than two rhinos, they will expect to be in the limelight 24/7 and perhaps they will need a good communications team to fend off prying media eyes.

But one thing I‘m certain of: it will change our city, change the perspective of our city for others and bring fresh excitement and enthusiasm plus investment to Birmingham.

Perhaps we should consider a job description. Watch this space.

  • Sir Bernard Zissman is the author of A Knight out with Chamberlain in Birmingham, his imagined ‘conversation’ with Joseph Chamberlain. Click here to order it from Amazon
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