Tomorrow there is a referendum in Middlesbrough on to decide whether to keep the post of directly elected Mayor or to switch back to having a council leader. Whatever happens Ray Mallon – the zero tolerance policing “Robocop” – will stand down next year after three terms as an independent mayor.
The Labour Party are generally campaigning for the old model to be restored. That is understandable. They have a large majority of local councillors and so would expect to run things in the town for the first time since Mr Mallon took charge in 2002. However there is not a great ideological divide – for instance Mr Mallon has put up Council Tax.
Mr Preston used to be in the Labour Party yet he notes that the dominance of Labour policies locally for decades has not been a success:
Middlesbrough has the second highest unemployment rate; Middlesbrough has some of the lowest educational achievement; Middlesbrough continues to endure appalling crime rates. In a rather embarrassing summary of our town’s problems Middlesbrough was fairly recently judged to be Britain’s worst place to live on account of its high crime, social problems and under performing schools.
Also, note that while UK’s population has grown by 11% over 30 years Middlesbrough has shrunk by around 10%. That is how its residents are voting with their feet.
So who, or what, is to blame for the truthfully shocking 30 years of relative and absolute decline? Honestly, I don’t know exactly where the blame lies – and the purpose of this blog is not to apportion blame.
What I am trying to do is make it clear to everyone that despite expensive PR and waffle from political operators . . . something has been going very wrong for three decades. And that things have to change – now. Let’s admit we’ve got big problems and accept that local and national politics have failed to stop decay and decline. We need to find our own answers to our own issues.
Having a directly elected Mayor is not a panacea. You can have a good council leader or a bad mayor. Ultimately, as Mre Preston reasonably concludes, Mr Mallon has proved a failure. But in somewhere like Middlesbrough the directly elected Mayoral system does offer the best chance of escaping the grip of a failing political establishment.