Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

London holds mayoral elections, allowing the residents of all its boroughs to vote for the candidate they want to see lead the city. Haringey doesn't currently give its residents this choice. Our system, like most in London, is a Leader and cabinet system.  Is it time for a change?

In our current system residents vote for a local councillor, the resulting council being then made up of the elected members from each ward. The council then vote for a leader (inevitably a councillor from the majority party), and the leader then appoints the cabinet – members who are given responsibility for specific areas of council business.

The alternative model is known as ‘elected mayor and cabinet’ in which a mayor, elected by the public, takes over the role of council leader. This gives them considerable power over policy and budget. It is this system which is responsible for us having a directly elected mayor of London.

The die was cast for Haringey’s current governance system back in 2009 when responses to a local ‘survey’ favoured the leader option. The vote took place shortly after national legislation came into force to create the options. A paltry 590 Haringey residents responded to the survey (isn’t that awful!). Haringey's website says that 325 favoured the Leader option and 265 favoured the Mayor, which is closer than I would have thought.

It has occurred to me since to wonder about the possible benefits of changing horses to a directly elected system.  My fear back in 2009 (and yes I was one of the 590) was that a directly elected mayor was just another layer and that it might lead to too great a concentration of power in a single person. So I voted for the current system.

The municipal establishment broadly opposes elected mayors. Their reasons I understand include the risks of populism and reduced influence for local councillors.

Yet advocates of elected mayors argue that the formal powers of existing elected mayors do not differ greatly from those of council leaders. They also say that mayors deliver strong and stable leadership; that they can act as champions of an area, driving economic development and growth. As representatives chosen by citizens rather than their party colleagues, directly elected mayors are arguably more externally focused and apparently many mayors see themselves as leader of a place rather than leader of a council. It might also be argued that there is potential for the role to provide balance where a council is regularly dominated by a single party.

Legislation allows local residents to petition for a referendum over a change of system. The law would require Haringey to hold a referendum on the issue if just 5% of the electorate petition for one. In the EU Referendum, Haringey had an electorate of 150,098. On that basis a petition of just over 7,500 registered electors would force a referendum.

I haven't fully thought through the pros and cons sufficiently at this stage, but my intuition tells me that a directly elected system may be no bad thing - and a petition of 7,500 signatures couldn't be that hard......could it?

I am attaching the recently published House of Commons Briefing Paper on this issue.

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I'm not sure that this proposal is well timed given recent events.

It's not a proposal, David. It's a discussion opener. As to the timing, I don't see the problem.

 The pitfall of 'populism', as you mention in the post, is all too apparent just at the moment.

In all seriousness, things do feel very stuck at the moment in Haringey - but the idea of directly elected leaders who have very real power seems too much like a quick fix, that is too open to corruption and poplulism. We face complex problems and promises of simple, sweeping solutions can have great appeal. 

Obviously this issue might look different out the shadow of yesterday's election, but for me not just at the moment. Hence my comment about timing.

completely agree - this year should have told people that the idea that more voting automatically equals more democracy and well-informed decisinon making is highly flawed

it's surely logical upon electing the councillors for them to organise themselves and decide their own majority on who should be the council leader

I agree not the right time given not only yesterdays events but also Brexit .

That's the trouble with democracy - you don't always get your favoured result.

Who is to say that the polloi can't have what THEY want but only the elite ?

Churchill's contention - that democracy is the worst possible form of government (except for all the others that have been tried) - is certainly being tested to the limit this year!

I think it's a good idea Hugh...there needs to be something to breathe some life into that creaky old council...

I suggest that any discussion should begin by looking at the reality of how power works on Haringey Council; and in particular how Cllr Claire Kober has managed to accumulate so much unhealthy and unchecked power. 
Would an elected mayor be better or worse?

I doubt whether the main problem is "populism". Donna Trump she is not.

I doubt Cllr Kober would win a popular vote.

My biggest worry about directly elected mayors is that they can operate in a political vacuum. They are elected once per term but between terms there is little (or complete zero) accountability to the rest of the the people we also elect (I.e. Councillors). The Cabinet is appointed by the mayor, not by those we have elected to represent us at a local level, so the checks and balances we (in theory) have now disappear.
I know that there is an understandable level of cynicism about how effective the current system is but the little nagging voice at the back of my mind keeps whispering "Tower Hamlets"
I don't recall such a survey being sent. However I would oppose such a move for many reasons including the cost. Firstly electing would mean more costs to residents iwhich for a borough that needs every penny this is unnecessary. Secondly electing a mayor type leader would give more powers to a single person which would be more difficult to remove that person for the term they were elected just like we have with the London mayor. Another danger would be as some mentioned that it would be more of a political thing. What if the mayor elected was say Tory when the main councillors elected were labour? It would be more difficult for councillors to vote against the mayor. I think this is a bad idea and I agree with the person below that during the disagreements and difficulties with Brexit it is better not to go down this route at this time



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