Regional elected mayor isn't "Power to the people" - we should have our say

October 26, 2015 3:35 PM
By David Faulkner in The Journal

An editorial in The Journal last week on the North East devolution deal is headed "Power to the People" but that's the last thing it is. The people of the North East are not being given a say about whether they wish to have a Mayor covering an area from Berwick to Barnard Castle. They should have been.

The editorial also assumes that in this "Labour-voting region" (and so it has been) the "Labour Candidate is highly likely to win". Yes, highly likely, but not inevitable. Would you have said that it was "highly likely" that Labour would be almost wiped out in Scotland at the General Election in May?

Historic Labour domination of the region has meant that the Conservatives always ignore it - maybe the imposed mayor model is intended as a backdoor route to power in the North East for the Tories, but it is surely doomed. On the other hand, because Labour can always take the region's support for granted, it also delivers less for the North East than it should and could.

We all know that a more proportional voting system such as for the European Parliament, Scottish and Welsh assemblies and the London Mayoral election could create a spark and help counterbalance the arrogance and complacency of Labour's one-party state in the North East. If we get it, then maybe it won't be such an inevitable outcome, after all?

This is a less ambitious devolution ask by Labour leaders than it might have been, but it is nonetheless welcome. If Labour had been brave enough to offer real powers like this in 2004 (instead of the Prescott sop) I wonder if the North East would have voted for its own assembly in the referendum?

The lack of enthusiasm of the business community in 2004 contrasts with their support now. Their call for a greater voice - especially as councils will set and retain business rates - is justified but must be based on more than commercial self -interest. They must offer clear and meaningful help to the councils, not just indulge in the kind of anti local government rhetoric that I am hearing from some people.

So what now? We are where we are with the devolution deal and the coming mayor election, so we must make the very best of it. Let us hope for charismatic and challenging candidates, not just the same old, same old. And perhaps a regional mayor could yet become a stepping-stone to a directly-elected regional assembly. If it's good enough for London, why not here?

Councillor David Faulkner, Liberal Democrat Group, Newcastle City Council