Copeland residents have voted in a referendum to adopt a directly elected Mayor. It was approved by a big majority – 12,671 to 5,489. There does appear to be potential in areas with complacent Labour councils with huge majorities to petition for these referendums as a means of shaking up the system.

The Yes campaign, Time for Change, presented their message as follows:

“You have a simple choice: do you want to stay with a failing system, led by Cllr Elaine Woodburn, or move to a proven system of local governance, where she will be relieved from her role, and you will get the chance to elect whom you want to lead council? If you choose to remain as we are, you should note that you would not have the chance to change things for another ten years. It is frightening to think
that we might have to endure another decade of failure, when we could have something much better.”

There was some argument about whether the change would cost more or less – rather depending on whether it entailed abolition of the post of chief executive. Of course the real saving would come about if a mayor was elected with a commitment to value for money – someone with a clear undertaking to reduce the Council Tax.

This year Copeland Council is increasing its share of the Council Tax by 1.96 per cent. Last year there was a 1.9 per cent increase. The Band D Council Tax in Copeland is £1,582 (although the main culprit is Cumbria Council).  In England the average Band D Council Tax is £1,468. The referendum was really a protest against paying extra for poorer services.

Dan Hannan has argued:

“Elected mayors will revive civic patriotism, local particularisms and political diversity. No one can doubt that Boris – and, in his baleful fashion, Ken Livingstone – made Londoners more interested in the government of their city.”

Directly electing a mayor creates accountability for one individual to all the residents of a borough – rather than the mush of consensus and collective responsibility. Much better for it to come from the bottom up – via a petition – than to be imposed from Whitehall.

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