Campaigners in support of an elected mayor in Bristol have hit back at opponents’ claims the new city leader would be a “dictator”.
With just 48 hours left before the referendum, which will determine how the city is governed for a generation, the ‘Yes’ campaign has reasserted their claims that an elected mayor would be more democratic than the current system.
Opponents of an elected mayor have warned that too much power will be vested in one position and one person. But the ‘Yes’ campaign have refuted this, saying the mayor would have a cabinet to answer to, made up of elected councillors – and would be elected him or herself every four years anyway.
“Like the mayor himself or herself, the cabinet will be made up of people elected by the public. The mayor will have exactly the same powers as Barbara Janke did,” said spokesman Stephen Perry.
“It’s been implied that the mayor would be able to stack the Council House with cronies. Well, it just isn’t possible.
“It’s also said that the mayor will be able to ram anything past the main council because it would take a two thirds majority to block any measures. This at face value may seem odd. But think about it. The new mayor may not be from the majority party in Council. The system is designed to make it feasible to elect independent mayors. An independent mayor won’t have their own party to whip through the things that need to be done.
“If the mayor attempts to go ahead with patently crazy schemes, then there can be little doubt two thirds of the councillors would defeat such measures.
“So the new system is designed to allow power to be exercised but with a council chamber that can stop the schemes that are obviously loopy.
“The reality is that the new mayor will bring decisiveness and authority to decision making but at the outset will have less power than is desirable with planning matters continuing to be separated.”
But the campaigners may be fighting a losing battle, if the latest national opinion polls are to be believed.
A Guardian/ICM poll published last Thursday showed 61% across regional, class and party lines said they would prefer to stay with the current council system – where the council head is the leader of the largest party.
In the north, the split in favour of sticking with a collectively run council is 63%-32%, and in the Midlands it is 64%-31%, as against a somewhat closer 56%-38% divide in the south.
If a ‘yes’ vote is declared at Ashton Gate on Friday, then an election for a mayor will be held in November. So far, architect George Ferguson and businessman Abdul Malik have declared their intention to stand for mayor.
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