Tag Archives: Mayor of Newham

Voting for Change

28 Oct

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Following a decision by Newham Council last Wednesday, the residents of Newham will have the opportunity to make a democratic decision about how they are governed, in the long-awaited referendum on local government.

The referendum will take place on 6th May 2021, at the same time as the London Assembly and London Mayor elections. The question on the ballot will ask Newham voters to choose between a council run by an executive Mayor and a cabinet, or a committee system made up of committees of elected councillors. This is a genuine choice between an executive model, in which decisions are made by the Mayor and a small group of councillors who make up the Cabinet, and a real alternative where all decisions are agreed by committees made up of elected councillors.

A campaign in favour of the committee system has already been launched. Newham Voting for Change is made up of Newham residents and councillors.

In a statement the group said that it welcomes the council’s decision that the choice on the ballot paper will be between the Mayoral model and the committee system.

Speaking for Newham Voting for Change, Cllr John Whitworth said: “The Mayor promised this referendum as part of her manifesto in 2018 and we’re very pleased that the date and the ballot question have now been confirmed. Newham voters will get a meaningful choice between the current system and a more open, inclusive and democratic system in which all councillors get a say in determining Council policy.”

Another spokesperson for the campaign, Josephine Grahl, said: “We set up Newham Voting for Change to make the positive arguments for the committee system: a co-operative, democratic system which gives a stronger voice to the elected councillors and residents of Newham. This is a real alternative to the Mayoral model and we hope Newham residents will support our campaign.”

The campaign has set up a website, a Twitter feed and a Facebook page.

It will come as no great surprise to regular readers of this blog but, in the interests of disclosure and transparency, I am supporting Newham Voting for Change.

Choices, choices

15 Oct

The much-anticipated referendum on the future governance of the borough is going to happen next May. 

Rokhsana Fiaz confirmed her commitment to this in an interview with the OnLondon blog, saying it would enable her to honour her manifesto pledge that a referendum would be held “before the end of my third year as Mayor.” 

Local authority governance referendums must offer voters a choice between the area’s existing model – in Newham’s case, the directly elected mayor – and one government-approved alternative. After the Democracy and Civic Participation Commission failed to recommend what that should be, a working party of Newham Council Labour group members convened to consider the options. Their findings were due to be voted on by Labour group last night. Whatever was agreed will  go forward for formal determination at the next full council meeting on 23 October.

So what are the options?

The so-called ‘People’s Petition’ campaign, which was run by a company based out of the house of Labour councillor Suga Thekkeppurayil and promoted by East Ham Labour chair Tahir Mirza, wanted the Leader and Cabinet model. This is sometimes also called the ‘Strong Leader’ model. Under this arrangement the council leader has powers similar to those of a directly elected mayor, but instead of being elected by the voters he or she is appointed by councillors from among their own number. The leader serves for four years, unless removed by a vote of no confidence by full council.

Executive power is held by the leader and the cabinet they appoint, with other councillors having little or no influence (does that sound familiar?)

This is arguably less democratic than the current situation. Now, party members – Labour, Conservatives, Greens and Lib Dems – across the borough select their candidates and the voters make their choice. Under the ‘strong leader’ model, only councillors get a say and the winner is whoever is backed by the largest faction within their political group. Assuming Labour retains 100% of the seats in 2022, just 34 councillors out of 66 will decide who’s in charge.

In Croydon, campaigners want a referendum to switch from this kind of ‘strong leader’ to a directly elected mayor. They argue that a mayor elected by the people will be more attentive to the needs of voters across the whole borough and more accountable. Perhaps in a borough that has a clear Labour/Tory split that will prove to be the case; in one-party Newham, it certainly wasn’t.

The other option is the committee system. Councils run on this model make most decisions in committees, which must be balanced according to the size of each party in the Council (not a huge issue in Newham right now). The Council Leader is appointed by full Council, but has no executive powers and the chairs of the committees are elected by the councillors. 

Campaigners in Sheffield are organising a petition to move away from the ‘strong leader’ model to a ‘modern committee system’. They say the current model excludes the majority of councillors from decision-making, asking “What is the point of voting if your councillor has no power?” They argue that a committee-based system will empower all councillors to do the job voters elect them to do. Councillors will have to work together to make decisions and cooperate to do the best for the city.

This option removes the idea of a ‘strong leader’ – be that a directly elected mayor or a council leader – and requires councillors to do the work collaboratively. Perhaps most importantly in Newham, it requires all councillors to do some work.

We will know in a week or so which alternative to the current model we can choose. 

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)

Itchy feet

19 Nov

Having finally got rid of Sir Robin Wales, some Labour councillors are itching to ditch the directly-elected mayoralty altogether. A motion is being put to Labour Group tonight (Monday 19 November):

Motion for a change in Newham governance arrangements 

Since 2002, the London Borough of Newham has been governed using the directly elected Mayoral model of executive arrangement to determine how decisions are made in the Council.

This Council recognises that democratic engagement should be continually promoted and Newham’s system for local governance must always reflect the ongoing need for strong democratic engagement and accountability. It should also ensure that it has a model of governance that best ensures scrutiny and a rigorous series of checks and balances on the exercise of power.

The Council notes the Localism Act 2011 which permits the holding of a binding referendum on the abolishment of the directly elected Mayoral model and replace it with a Leader and Cabinet model.  

Therefore this Council commits 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.

The motion is being proposed by Cllr Suga Thekkeppurayil, who is chair of the Labour Group, and seconded by Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit.

Obviously, I fully support having a referendum and will campaign for abolition of the directly elected mayoralty. But this is already the policy of the new administration. At the election in May Rokhsana Fiaz promised to hold a referendum on the directly-elected mayoralty, saying:

The Directly Elected Mayor model of governance is broken in Newham. We will hold a referendum on its future before the end of my third year as Mayor.

Despite some councillors might think (or hope), holding a referendum in May 2020 instead of 2021 won’t end the directly-elected mayoralty any sooner. Whatever happens, any change to Newham’s governance arrangements won’t come into effect until the next local elections. Rokhsana Fiaz will be the mayor until 2022.

What might happen if a referendum is held in May 2020 is the election of a Tory mayor of London. Whilst Sadiq Khan is a popular mayor his re-election is not guaranteed. Every vote will count and there’s a lot of Labour votes in Newham. Do local campaigners really want to be distracted by having to spend part of their time canvassing to get rid of the Newham mayor while at the same time trying to get votes to re-elect the London Mayor? That’s a recipe for confusion.

Labour Group should amend the motion to read ‘by May 2021’ and pass it. Then, after (hopefully) re-electing Sadiq Khan they will have a year to plan and execute a successful campaign to return Newham to a more sensible form of local government.

UPDATE:

An amendment has been submitted by Cllrs John Whitworth and Daniel Blaney removing the specific date and replacing it with

in good time for any consequent constitutional changes to be factored into the 2022 Local Elections.

Liberal candidate selected

22 Mar

NewhamBDLibDems 2018 Mar 21

Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats have selected Gareth Evans as their mayoral candidate for the election in May.

He joins Labour’s Rokhsana Fiaz and Conservative Rahima Khan on the ballot.

The Green Party will be announcing their candidate shortly.