Friday, January 12, 2007

Bring Back Democracy: The Fight Begins on January 15 2007
Come out in your tens, hundreds, and thousands even! The fight to regain democracy in Lewisham formally starts at that community battleground of 2006 – the Ladywell Leisure Centre on Monday January 15 2007 at 8pm in the Palms Bar. In an unprecedented show of cross-party co-operation, practically every political entity of worth will be represented in a united front to say NO to Executive Mayoralty in Lewisham. And the public are ALL invited!

Organised by the Bring Back Democracy movement, a petition has already begun to back a planned Councillor-led motion asking Lewisham Council to commission a referendum on whether we should continue having a directly elected Mayor. The dynamic duo of John Hamilton, Independent Mayoral Candidate of 2006, and Nick Ingham are leading the efforts to return power to the people. They and a number of hardworking politicians have put together a compelling case. Consider the following: The original Mayoral referendum in Lewisham was held on 18th October 2001 by postal vote. The “Yes” vote was 16,822 (51%) and the “No” vote was 15,914 (49%). With turnout of only 18% this means that only 9.2% of electors actually voted in favour of introducing the new system. The result was controversial with the Electoral Commission noting that “the number of ballot papers which could not be included in the count because of invalid declarations was greater than the difference between the yes and no vote.” And what has Lewisham got? A directly elected Mayor that appoints a cabinet of up to 9 councillors, but is not required to include members of different parties or to delegate any power to cabinet members. The Mayor only needs the support of 1/3 of the elected councillors (18 out of 54 in Lewisham) to approve the annual budget and policy framework documents. The Mayor can make almost all other decisions without needing to win a vote of councillors or the cabinet. Elected councillors have no authority other than to scrutinise the Mayor’s decisions and can only recommend that any decision be reconsidered.

It seems to me that this is a mockery of democracy. It is true that Steve Bullock was re-elected as Mayor in 2006 but did the electorate REALLY know what they were voting for? Any successful referendum would NOT force him out of office in his current term. If he were to resign, or be found criminally negligent (and thus have to quit) or died in office, then the whole charade would come to an end. Otherwise, he would see out his term in full. This is a lot more reasonable than what currently passes for respecting the will of the people. And while the Prime Minister himself has praised Executive Mayoralty, there is no way he would wish for such a system to be imposed at Westminster. Or would he? Hasn’t he and many others gone along with another project that sees the concentration of political power in the hands of the few? Where the will of the majority is ignored as directive after directive is relentlessly pursued, making a farce of our elected representatives? The fight for democracy truly starts in Lewisham…