A referendum about the elected mayoralty of Liverpool?


Last Thursday, following an absolutely disgraceful Council meeting I wrote the following,
“I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that we need to have a referendum on whether we should have an elected mayor. Remember that the people of Liverpool were denied a vote on the issue and that all but one of the Cities that held a referendum rejected the Mayoral model. I had thought until recently that a referendum would be a distraction but so damaging is Mayor Anderson to Liverpool that perhaps we all need to think again and collect the 16,000 votes needed for a referendum”.
Some people interpreted that as a sign that not only had I launched such a referendum but would lead the campaign. I want to make clear that this is not the case. For reasons I elaborate on below I believe that such a referendum should now be held. I will not, however, lead such a campaign. This is not because I do not relish a fight or support the aims of this fight but because I have always believed that major constitutional change should be the decision of the people of an area and not its politicians. That is why I wrote to all the Labour leaders in the City Region two years ago suggesting that they should help establish a Constitutional Convention to consider the governance that would be required by a stronger, more powerful city region. I also moved an amendment in Council that we should not choose an elected Mayor but should await a referendum in May 2012.
So I will not lead a campaign but am happy to support one for the reasons given below:
1. A clear reason that people feel able to attack the Mayor is because a very large number of them do not feel that there should be an elected mayor and that they were cheated out of the right to be part of that historic decision making process. Had the people voted for an elected mayor they would appreciate the fact that he had more of a right to govern than one chosen after the back-handed method used in Liverpool. As it happens I do not believe that the people of Liverpool would have voted for the mayoralty any more than did the people of places like Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle.
2. The mayoralty has failed in one of the key objectives set by the Government which was to increase electoral turnout. At two meetings the Mayor claimed that turnout was at Parliamentary levels for his election – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact in 2012 approximately 2,000 more people voted in the council elections than voted on the same day for the mayoral election.
3. Cllr Anderson, as he then was, told us that having a Mayor would get us more powers than having a Leader. Despite the Deputy Prime Minister saying that this was incorrect the Labour party pushed on. Of course it was incorrect. The Government would have needed to create primary legislation to move powers around and there was no likelihood that they would do it for a handful of councils never mind just for Liverpool.
4. Cllr Anderson also told us that Liverpool would get more money if we had a mayoralty. This can only bring a hollow laugh! In regional terms the pool has been scooped by the Manchester City Region at the heart of which is a city without a mayor. On both a gross and per capita calculation Manchester CR has done far better than Liverpool CR.
5. There is some evidence coming out of the ‘smoke filled’ rooms of the Labour Party that the existence of a City mayor is hampering proper discussion and the development of a way forward on the creation of a new authority for the City Region. Notably Liverpool’s Mayor failed to convince his fellow Labour Leaders of his call for a City Region Mayor perhaps because it is so closely connected with his ambition to do the job himself.
6. Decision making has become a joke in Liverpool. The council lacks openness and transparency with reports, most of which should be available to the public, shrouded in ‘commercial confidentiality clauses. Decision are made on the whim of the mayor ranging from the suspension of the bus lanes to the sale of a park which the mayor does not think is well used. The mayor makes a decision and officers have to scurry around to try and find ways of justifying that decision often using expensive consultants (see Cunard Building!!)
7. There is no scrutiny of the Executive. In law we are supposed to follow the Parliamentary model where the decisions of the Executive (i.e. the Government) are appropriately challenged by everyone else. In Liverpool we have a select committee system which exists on a diet of PowerPoints delivered by outside agencies and officers to make councillors think they are important.
8. It costs a lot of money. Having a Mayor; a deputy Mayor and about 9 mayoral leads is costing taxpayers about £250,000 a year more than the council leader model which was just as effective.
Those are my arguments for the change but there is one argument that I do not feel is relevant – the quality of Mayor Anderson himself. People get who they vote for but they vote for different reasons. Our Party is very small in Liverpool not, mostly, not because of our actions but because of national politics. Labour have a large majority not because people like the mayor but because they dislike Nick Clegg. The democratic process however allows people to vote how they want to and why they want to and that means that under any system in any way you can end up with an ugly duckling instead of a swan!!!
So how can this get taken forward? At their request I have already had a meeting with representatives of three organisations who intend in the New Year to campaign for an end to the elected mayoralty by way of a referendum. I am more than happy to convene a first meeting of these and any other groups to introduce people to each other and to explain how to go about getting a referendum. Then, however, I would leave the discussions.
Whether or not Liverpool has an Elected Mayor should be a decision of its People. If there is to be a campaign for a referendum it should be conducted by people outside the formal political structures who might be seen to have a personal or party-political self interest in such a decision.
Now however, in my opinion, is the right time for such discussions to be had and such a referendum to be held. In that, as in all things that I try to do, I will act as a servant of the people of Liverpool. So what do you think? You can comment here, on my Facebook page (cllrKemp@facebook.com) on my twitter account (cllrkemp@twitter.com) or e-mail me at richardkemp68@yahoo.co.uk. Over to you organisations and people of Liverpool!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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5 Responses to A referendum about the elected mayoralty of Liverpool?

  1. joedd says:

    Whoever takes this forward has my full support….. well written Richard – we need to bring balance back to the city ……

  2. Catherine says:

    Most of this makes great sense, but the assertion that the quality of the current Mayor is irrelevant is not true. It is relevant – because yes, you are of course right about the motivations and consequences of voting, but surely our current predicament is the perfect example of why having an elected Mayor is such a problem right now. Because the balance of power between the Labour Party and its leader in Liverpool has shifted too far in one direction. The previous system meant that the party could (and I think did) exert pressure on a leader if they felt he was unpopular, doing the wrong thing, etc. etc. So Joe Anderson is the perfect example of what you can end up with.
    I also think it is a mistake to dissociate yourselves (i.e. “professional” politicians like you and your party) from this. Everyone should get involved, contributing in any way they can. It’s not a party political thing at al. It’s about power and governance (what used to be called constitutional issues). And it’s not as if it’s just the LibDems who are unhappy about all this – it’s all the opposition parties, isn’t it? Surely what we need is a broad coalition of everyone opposing it, from across the political spectrum and beyond.

  3. paul says:

    Well done Richard it’s time ordinary people of liverpool see Mr Anderson what he is he was never voted in. Why he thinks he has the power monopoly. For big decisions. I will never know. Labour has the answer for everything. Wise up.and challenge their failures ex labour voter.

  4. Lisa Jones says:

    Agree entirely Richard, very well argued. The whole system sucks.

  5. Kevin Manley says:

    Totally agree. And I’m instinctively a Labour supporter. The fact that central govt seem so intent on forcing mayors on city regions is reason enough to be suspicious, and yet I haven’t heard a single argument on why its supposedly so important; presumably because if power is concentrated in one pair of hands it better enables the democratic process and the interests of the public to be ridden roughshod over in the interests of big business. Sorry, I meant pursue a strategy for economic growth…

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