How to get rid of the mayor: just vote him out, say Tower Hamlets referendum petitioners
PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:26 27 October 2020
Moves to decide whether Tower Hamlets should get rid of its directly-elected mayor has led to two rival petitions both calling for a public referendum.
They start the process of looking at replacing the mayor and going back to local neighbourhood councillors making decisions at the town hall.
The issue is being thrashed out at next month’s full council meeting to forestall a public vote being “slipped in unnoticed” that might keep the all-powerful elected mayor for another 10 years if a “no to change” majority got through.
That would prevent another referendum until 2030 and keep executive mayors in power for a further decade.
Those wanting councillors to make the big decisions instead, rather than the mayor behind closed doors, are forcing the debate, called by independent councillor Andrew Wood who is backed by ruling Labour group members on the opposite side.
“A referendum shouldn’t just be ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Cllr Wood told the East London Advertiser. “We want three choices on a ballot paper so that voters would know the alternatives.
“Residents and not just politicians should have a say on how we make decisions that affect us all.”
His online petition states: “Covid threatens the economy in Tower Hamlets while the population continues to grow, which makes it increasingly difficult for any one person to cover everything and therefore responsibility needs to be more widely shared.”
The East End’s first executive mayor was Lutfur Rahman in 2010 after a referendum pushed by his ally George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow at the time, calling for direct elections which got him into office.
But Rahman’s secretive administration soon ran the gauntlet of criticism about public assets being sold off and taxpayers’ cash being given to dubious organisations without being scrutinised.
It eventually led to his ban from office by the High Court which overturned the 2014 corrupt election that had secured his second term.
Government auditors had to be brought in to take over town hall finances while chasing funds that were unaccounted for.
Labour then swept back to power with its own elected mayor, London Assembly’s budget chairman John Biggs, who opened up to council scrutiny.
But critics maintain the executive mayor is still too powerful by having the final word and want decisions to revert to councillors after a decade of being sidelined.
They have pushed for next month’s open debate to stop their opponents quietly kicking any chances of change into touch, as results of a referendum cannot be challenged for 10 years once it is held.
Andrew Wood’s petition calls for voters to have three choices on the ballot paper with impartial information about “what’s right for Tower Hamlets” rather than just a straight “yes” or “no” which had undermined the national 2016 Brexit referendum.
It also looks at what Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz did in neighbouring Newham with a Democracy and Civic Participation commission that looked at issues on how democracy works. I
Councillors there voted last week to have a Newham referendum with two options, elected executive mayor or the committee system. Voters get to choose on May 6 next year.
A similar commission for Tower Hamlets could be followed by “a more-enlightened referendum” than 2010 which had been held the same day as general and local elections that allowed it to slip through almost unnoticed. The call this time is a separate poll so that voters are more informed this time round.
The rival petition to Cllr Wood’s that limits choice between executive mayors or returning to council leaders specifies a vote on May 6, same day as Newham’s referendum.
It states: “The people voted in 2010 without the experience of an executive mayor. Now they have experienced it for 10 years and should decide which is best for Tower Hamlets.”
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