Of power and patronage

29 Apr

Hands up who wants Sir Robin to be mayor for another four years?

On Friday it was announced, to no surprise whatsoever, that Sir Robin Wales had been re-selected as Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Newham.

Given the choice in a ‘trigger ballot’ between keeping the incumbent and running an open selection process, party members chose not to give themselves a choice. It’s a deeply depressing decision.

Writing for Left Futures back in January Jon Lansman asked why Labour’s most powerful politicians – its directly elected mayors – are the least accountable and explained why it was inevitable that Sir Robin and the other incumbent mayors would win these ‘trigger ballots’:

Because they have no challengers.

Why do they have no challengers? Because as well as the power and the patronage, they can carry on long as they wish. It’s a vicious circle.

Of course, each Mayor has their own personal style and different levels of willingness to tolerate criticism. But the value of the patronage in these boroughs is far more significant than in Parliament where MPs are paid a minimum of £65,738. In Newham, London’s poorest borough, the £15,856 which Sir Robin Wales dispenses (on average), in addition to their basic allowance of £10,829, to 29 of Newham’s 60 Labour councillors (there is no opposition) is not chicken feed. For many, it is their only or main income. How likely is it that a Cabinet member who is full-time, dependent on their allowances of £41,871, will take on Sir Robin in Cabinet or Labour Group never mind in a contest to be a mayoral candidate?

So, in essence, Sir Robin has ensured the loyalty and compliance of those around him. Put simply, those most likely to offer a realistic challenge have the most to lose from making one. And they know Sir Robin is ruthless in his treatment of dissent.

Lansman concluded:

The least that Labour’s executive could do is to ensure that if Mayors are allowed to serve a fourth term, they should at least face a full selection procedure.

Sadly, Labour passed up that opportunity and agreed to the trigger ballot process. With the inevitable outcome.

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