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?


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.


4 Responses 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.

    • Kronikal May 14, 2021 at 19:08 #

      In what way is a Leader chosen by a “random group” of elected councillors?

      In any case the Leader chosen would normally be the existing leader of the party, so voters would know to expect that person to probably become Council Leader. And the choice of who is Council Leader makes much less difference than the choice of who is Mayor, because the latter has so much more untrammelled power. But crucially, if the Council Leader is exposed as corrupt, then the other councillors can at least then get rid of them, which is not possible with a Mayor.

  2. Conor McAuley May 14, 2021 at 22:11 #

    In 1981 Andrew Macintosh led the Labour candidates into the GLC election. Having won a majority and taken control of the GLC from the Tories, a grateful Labour Group of Labour GLC members promptly elected Ken Livingstone as Leader. The public were in no way involved in this change of direction. In 1994 Stephen Timms was the Labour Leader of Newham going into the borough council elections. Immediately following the election the elected members chose a John Isted as leader because Stephen stood down.

    That is what can and does happen. Clearly the voters of Newham prefer to know who they are voting for before the election takes place.

    • Kronikal May 15, 2021 at 16:18 #

      I said ‘probably’, and so it is. You cite exceptions that prove the rule.
      The 1981 events you mention did not catch everyone out as you imply. Anyone paying attention in the lead-up to that election knew that Ken was likely to take over: Tories and independent commentators kept saying so. (And many of those that hadn’t been following, and just voted Labour out of habit, were more likely not to know one end of the Labour Party from the other, so wouldn’t have had any reason to feel betrayed.) You say “The public were in no way involved in this change of direction.” But many of those who voted Labour in that election did so *because of* the buzz of excitement around the idea that radical upstarts could take over, ending the tedium of hardly being able to tell one party from the other.

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