Leicester is a city of two Mayors, each with their own peculiar features. The Lord Mayor can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and the City Mayor is a position that was invented in 2011.
The Lord Mayor is primarily a ceremonial role: think annual curry eating fundraisers (October 22, Leicester Mercury) and weighty gold chains, all topped off with a resplendent feathery hat. The City Mayor in contrast is a position that carries a weight of power, and is filled by a man keen to curry favour with fatcat elites.
The former “cannot be involved in any political decision-making” and is a relic of era before universal democratic suffrage became trendy. The latter is about undermining local democracy and controlling important political decisions.
For instance, all decisions made by our City Mayor must be opposed by a massive two thirds of the city’s elected Councillors if they are to be successfully overturned.
This means that even if the majority of Councillors are Labour Party members then it is still possible for a Conservative City Mayor to rule with an iron fist. As Jeremy Corbyn said this August, “knowing that the Conservatives will never get control of councils in many of our towns and cities, [Conservatives] have sought to impose a mayoral system without the consent of the people.”
Prior Labour leaders have not opposed the mayoral system; hence it was a Parliamentary Act passed in 2007 that enabled Councillors to impose their own City Mayors without consulting with their electorate.
Leicester’s Labour Council made the decision to bypass the people of Leicester when they realised that the Tories planned to hold democratic referendums on this issue in each of England’s twelve largest cities outside of London (which includes Leicester).
It is for such reasons that I helped in petitioning efforts to gather the necessary 12,000 signatories to trigger a referendum, which would allow the people of Leicester to decide if they even want a City Mayor. Sadly this effort fell short by some thousands, as gathering so many names on petitions is not as easy as it sounds.
In a strange twist on socialism, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby used this attempt to bring a little democratic oversight to his position, by arguing: “Having failed to win any seats in the elections, the socialists seem to think the quickest way to start the revolution is to get rid of the mayor’s position” (December 20, 2013, Mercury).
One may only wonder what Sir Peter makes of Corbyn’s ongoing efforts to reinstate socialist and democratic principles to the heart of the Labour Party? Does he think Corbyn is committed to reform or revolution?
This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury on 23rd October.