Mayoral Referendums — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East, Labour)
It is a great pleasure to follow Martin Vickers. I agree with an awful lot of what he said. However, I most certainly disagree with the most high-profile thing that he said about the Prime Minister’s advocacy. I do not want the Prime Minister to come to Coventry to advocate for an elected mayor. That would not go down nearly as well as it might in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
I cannot boast 26 years in local government as the hon. Gentleman can, but I did eight years as a member of Coventry city council before being elected to this
place. It has long been my view—after about a year of settling in and getting to understand how the system worked, I became pretty disillusioned with it—that I do not believe that it works. I do not believe that it can be made to work.
In 2001, Labour proposed elected mayors. We set up a system that all hon. Members in this Chamber will know allowed for a petition to be raised, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to get a referendum. Not many petitions have been raised. If I believed that the reason for those petitions not being raised over that intervening period was a high level of satisfaction with the current system and that nobody really wanted change, I assure the House that my support for the mayoral model would have waned considerably. However, the petitions have not been raised because we face, as Charlotte Leslie said earlier, almost total apathy in respect of local government. We do not have—we do not enjoy—local democracy in England at all; it does not exist.
There is also an impact on councillors. In what other walk of life would we consider it good and acceptable—something that we ought to continue with—to have a system where people know that their policies, credible or incredible, make no difference to their success. However, local government elections can be affected organisationally; we have all done it and participated in it.
Councillors and councils fall or stand on the national trend. Councillors know that. In 2004, the Labour party lost control of Coventry city council, not because we as a party lost control of it or because it was a bad council, but because in that year the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was somewhat unpopular in the country. It was as simple as that. We wound up with a Conservative council for six years, which fell in 2010, in large part because the local election was on the same day as the general election and, in an overwhelmingly Labour city, the turnout was well up and the Conservative council was swept away as a result. I do not think that that was a particularly good council—it was worthy of considerable criticism—but it knew, and we knew, that it would lose an election called on