Opponents of an elected mayor for Birmingham launched their campaign this week, under the slogan ‘vote no to a power freak’.
City MPs John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat, and Labour’s Roger Godsiff are leading the cross-party anti-mayor movement, along with Tory city councillor James Hutchings.
Mr Hemming said he hoped the campaign would convince the people of Birmingham that it would be dangerous to concentrate so much power in the hands of one individual, who could not be removed by the city council during a four year period in office.
He called for a powerful “no” vote in next May’s referendum, which will decide whether Birmingham should replace the city council leader and cabinet with a directly elected mayor.
Mr Hemming added: “The campaign’s plan is to announce a new reason why people should vote no every few weeks so that there can be a debate about the realities of having a directly elected mayor or power freak.”
On the campaign’s website, www.votenotoapowerfreak.org.uk, reasons for opposing a mayor include the claim that it would be impossible for one person to listen to the views of a city of a million people.
City councillors would be unable to excert much influence while only “powerful and influential people” would be able to meet the mayor, it is claimed.
The website adds: “At the moment councillors can attend local meetings and talk to people and then the city leader has to listen to the council as the council can hire or fire the city leader.
“With a directly elected mayor it would only be possible to sack the mayor every four years. That means for 42 of the 48 months the city leader could simply ignore everyone else apart from those with big wallets or other influence.
“There are many issues that crop up between elections. It is important that there is two way communication between people and the political system. Having a directly elected mayor means that the mayor would be on the telly lecturing people, but the people would not be able to answer back.”
Birmingham Tory councillor Phil Parkin, a leading member of the yes to a mayor campaign, accused Mr Hemming and his supporters of peddling myths.
Coun Parkin (Con Sutton Trinity) added: “By its very nature, of course, the no campaign will be negative, focusing on the risks of what might happen should we decide to try something new. And negativity certainly seems to the theme of the campaign’s arguments so far.”
There are four potential mayoral candidates so far. They are the former Labour MP for Erdington, Sion Simon, the current Labour MP for Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart and the leader of the city council Labour group, Sir Albert Bore. Former city policeman Ray Egan will stand as an independent.
No Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates have emerged, although Mr Hemming has said he would probably try for the Liberal Democrat nomination if the referendum produces a yes vote, even though he is leading the no campaign.