Pass Notes: the Newham Referendum

27 Apr

Newham Voting for Change leaflets

So what’s this referendum all about then?

This is it – the referendum promised by Rokhsana Fiaz when she was elected in 2018, on the future of Newham governance – basically, who has the power and who makes the decisions. The options on the ballot on 6 May 2021 will be the Directly Elected Mayor (what we have now) and the committee system (a different model).

Oh yes. I’ve seen the garish yellow leaflets. Is it true that if I vote for the committee structure, parking charges will be abolished, council tax will be cut, diamonds will rain from the sky, and every Newham resident will get a free pony?

Don’t count on it. The referendum is about governance structures – the way that the council works and decides things – not policy, which is decided by the majority party elected. Look out for Newham Voting for Change’s materials (see above), which take a less Nigel Farage-style approach.

So how do I get a free pony?

When the Free Pony Party gain a majority of seats on Newham council; so not any time soon, I’m afraid.

So if it’s not about parking charges what’s in it for me?

It’s about having a council where power is more diversified – at the moment the Mayor has full executive power in Newham Council, but with the committee system it would be shared between all 60 councillors.

How does that work?

Newham Council has published the plan for the initial set-up. There will be four committees covering Children and Education, Environment and Transport, Economy and Housing, and Adults and Health, plus a Policy and Resources committee which has general oversight – for the corporate plan and the council’s budget, for example.

So who would be in charge?

The council would still elect a leader, but they wouldn’t have the vast executive power of the current Mayor.

Sounds interesting. Do any other councils work like that?

An increasing number. And on 6 May Sheffield are also holding a referendum on moving to the committee structure. There’s more information on the website of Newham Voting for Change, the campaign for the committee structure. 

Do they make the yellow leaflets?

No – their leaflets are purple, and deal with the actual governance issues we’ll be voting on: who has the power, and how decisions are made.

Why are there multiple campaigns?

Newham Voting for Change was set up last year by residents and councillors who’ve supported a more open system for a long time. The ‘yellow leaflet’ campaign are less transparent about who’s involved, but seem to be connected to Newham Democracy, who earlier this year unsuccessfully sued the council to take the committee structure off the referendum ballot paper.

Wait – so they were against the committee structure then, but now they’re saying it will bring about an earthly paradise?

Welcome to Newham politics. They also seem to spend a lot of time on twitter arguing about which of their accounts is the official one.

And what about the other side in the campaign?

Newham Right to Vote are campaigning to keep the Mayoral system, arguing that residents need a right to vote for the person who’s in charge.

But under the committee structure the councillors would have more power, and we vote for them, right?

Exactly.

Do say:

The committee structure is a more open, representative, co-operative and accountable way of doing things. Vote for change on 6 May!

Don’t say:

£350 million a week for free parking.

One Response to “Pass Notes: the Newham Referendum”

  1. Conor McAuley May 10, 2021 at 12:56 #

    Well, that went well.

    Clearly the people of Newham prefer to know they are voting for when they chose a Council Mayor rather than leaving the choice of Council Leader to a random group of elected councillors, meeting in private, after the election has taken place.

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