Pass Notes: the ‘People’s Petition’

8 Oct

Tahir Mirza

East Ham CLP chair Tahir Mirza is the public face of the ‘people’s petition’

What’s the story?

A “people’s petition” has been launched to force a referendum next year after councillors voted to push the date back of a public vote on how the borough is governed, according to the Newham Recorder.

Whose bright idea is that?

The petition is the ‘brain child’ of a group calling themselves Newham Democracy, though in reality this is a small group of ‘left’ Labour activists led by East Ham CLP chair Tahir Mirza. Others involved are West Ham vice chair Mehmood Mirza (no relation), former councillor Obaid Khan and Councillor Suga Thekkeppurayil. 

Didn’t the mayor already promise to have a referendum?

Yes, it was a key part of her manifesto in the Labour candidate selection and it was in her election manifesto for mayor in 2018. She pledged to

Hold a referendum on having a Directly Elected Mayor by 2021 and change the way the Council works so that we build a culture of trust and openness that involves our residents in our decision making.

That sounds unequivocal. Has she broken her promise?

No. Council recently voted to to hold the Governance Referendum on a date between June 2020 and May 2021, with an indicative date for 1st April 2021.

Didn’t the council vote before to have it in May 2020, on the same day as the London elections?

Sort of. In November 2018 it voted to hold a binding referendum by May 2020, on a change of governance from a directly elected Mayoral model to a Leader and Cabinet model. 

So the date has slipped then?

Yes, but council agreed to that in April 2019. A report from the chief legal officer pointed out that

the motion was not sufficient to be taken as part of the statutory process to commence a referendum. In short this is because, as a motion, it did not comply with the statutory requirements for such a Council resolution and did not provide a rationale for holding a referendum, that would comply with the legal principles for making a council decision, which in turn would place the referendum process at risk of legal challenge had it been commenced.

What were the problems with the motion?

Well, first of all it didn’t specify a date but, more importantly, it didn’t take account of the variety of alternative governance models that might replace the directly elected mayor. These should be consulted on rather than councillors simply saying what they want. And there’s a detailed process to be gone through before the referendum can happen.

But it could still be held in May 2020, right?

In theory, yes. But in practice there are big disadvantages to holding it on the same day as the London elections. There are already three different ballot papers (mayor, City & East assembly member and London-wide assembly members). This is confusing for a number of voters and adding a fourth ballot risks making it worse. London elections already have a high rate of rejected ballots and City & East has one of the highest rates. 

That might be a problem for Sadiq Khan…

Quite. From a purely partisan Labour point of view, confusing voters with both an election for one mayor and a referendum to abolish a different mayor on the same day is not a great idea. And more spoiled ballots in a solid Labour area in a potentially tight election is not a genius tactic. In fact, Sadiq Khan and the London Labour Party have been pretty clear they doesn’t want to take the risk.

Even so, holding to on the same day would save the council money…

Yes, but not much in grand scheme of things. The report estimated savings compared to a standalone vote at just £40,000.

Okay, so what happens now?

A democracy and civic participation commission has been set up and part of its remit is to propose different models of governance for Newham. These might include leader and cabinet; council and committees; or even delegating powers down to a new tier of ‘community (parish) councils’. Council will consider the commission’s recommendations before deciding which alternative model to put on the ballot paper against the current one. 

The commission will be chaired by Professor Nick Pearce. Professor Pearce is Director of the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and Professor of Public Policy at the University of Bath.  He has previously worked as Head of the No 10 Downing Street Policy Unit.

Yawn. That’s going to takes ages, isn’t it?

Not really. The Commission will hand down their final report with findings and recommendations in March 2020.

I’ve seen people on Twitter say that the sooner we have the vote, the sooner we can get rid of the directly elected mayor.

They’re wrong. Even if we had a vote tomorrow the change couldn’t take place until the next local election in 2022. That’s the law and there’s no getting round it.

Newham Democracy says that holding the vote in 2021 means there won’t be enough time to put the change into effect before 2022 and we’ll have to have an elected mayor for another four years. Is that true?

No, it’s horse shit. In 2002 there was a referendum to change from being a ‘normal council’ to having a directly elected mayor. That was at the end of January. The first mayoral election was at the start of May, just over 3 months later. A year is plenty of time to change to reverse the change.

So, the mayor and council have already agreed to have a referendum in 2021; there’s no financial or legal advantage to having it earlier; and the Labour Party doesn’t want it at the same time as the London elections. Why are these Labour members organising a petition?

Now, there you’ve got me… 

Do say:

“The directly elected mayoral model places too much power in one person’s hands and, as we have seen in Newham, leads to cronyism and poor decision-making. We will be well rid of it in 2022.”

Don’t say:

“That Rokhsana Fiaz needs to be shown who’s boss.”

(apologies to the Guardian for ripping off their format)

One Response to “Pass Notes: the ‘People’s Petition’”

  1. Alan Griffiths October 8, 2019 at 16:58 #

    Rokhsana Fiaz isn’t boss, she’s Labour Group Leader.
    She ain’t being bossed about by anybody else!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: