Elected Mayor or Elected Dictator?


On 3 May 2012 the ballot papers for the Leeds City Council elections will include a Referendum on an Elected Mayor.

The Question on the ballot will be:

How would you like Leeds City Council to be run?

By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors. This is how the council is run now.





By a mayor who is elected by voters. This would be a change from how the council is run now.



The question on the ballot paper was chosen by politicians and civil servants in London, and it is thoroughly and deliberately misleading. It does not accurately describe either option, and it gives a false impression that an elected mayor provides increased democracy, when the opposite is actually the case.

All five political parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Morley Borough Independents and Greens) presently represented on Leeds City Council are strongly opposed to Elected Mayors in Leeds, and urge all electors to vote for the first option, which would retain the existing system in Leeds.

Brief reasons:

Leeds is not alone in this struggle. Other northern cities are also being forced to hold a mayoral referendum when there is no public demand for one. Click these links to view the NO campaigns in Newcastle and Birmingham.

To stop an unwanted, undemocratic and expensive elected mayor vote for the FIRST option on the ballot paper: to keep the existing system as it is.

There is a shorter, simpler version of this website at www.noleedsmayor.net

More details:

Elected mayors have no connection with our Lord Mayor, who has a largely ceremonial role, and raises significant funds for local charities. Leeds' Lord Mayor takes the chair at Council meetings, but is normally expected to remain politically neutral, more like the Speaker in the House of Commons than a Party Leader.

Despite the misleading question on the ballot paper, in Leeds the Council Leader does not "run" the Council. Our Leader is elected annually at the Council Annual Meeting, and chairs the Executive Board, which includes opposition councillors, as well as members of the ruling political group. The Council Leader is more like a local Prime-Minister. If the Leader made a serious error they could be removed by the other councillors at any time. During the recent Lib Dem - Tory Coalition in Leeds, two councillors from different parties shared the Leadership, and switched over by agreement every six months.

Elected mayors are modelled on North American city bosses and wield enormous political power. They can appoint their own non-elected cronies and govern without the councillors if there is a dispute. It is dangerous to concentrate so much power in one pair of hands and in America city bosses have sometimes proved to be corrupt. Elected mayors fix the Council budget, and they decide many of the Council's policies on their own. An Elected Mayor is all-powerful. They are elected for a four-year term, and cannot normally be removed from office, even if they lose the confidence of the people and the Council asks them to resign. They are more akin to an American President rather than a Prime Minister, but without the important safeguards that the American constitution provides.

Most of the pressure for Elected Mayors comes from London Politicians and Civil Servants. From their perspective an Elected Mayor would make Leeds and other provincial cities much easier to control from London. Instead of 99 councillors, each standing up for their local communities, there would be only one Leeds politician that they need to get into an arm-lock, and that person might not face re-election for several years.

There are 32 individual London Boroughs, each with its own local Council, so in London an Elected Mayor makes a lot more sense. For example, it would have been difficult to introduce London congestion charging without an elected mayor. The London Mayor sets strategic objectives for the entire capital city, but the individual London Boroughs retain considerable influence over local affairs. This would not be the case in Leeds, where an Elected Mayor would run the entire show, with a four-year gap before they faced re-election.

At present Council Leaders are paid slighlty less than ordinary Members of Parliament, but an Elected Mayor could easily cost three times as much, plus the salaries of any cronies they decide to appoint. This adds up to a significant cost over a four year term, at least one million pounds and probably more.

The misleading ballot paper suggests that Leeds voters would elect the mayor, but in practice the voters' influence will be very small. For example, in London the mayoral election costs 18 million to run, and every mayoral candidate needs to put down a 10,000 deposit, and contribute another 10,000 towards official printing and distribution costs. Each candidate can spend up to 420,000 in total on their election campaign. These figures would be substantially lower in Leeds, reflecting the much smaller population, but even so this is a game that only rich people or rich organisations can play. In practice, mayoral candidates must either be fairly rich, or have rich backers, or be nominated by a political party. The outcome will depend very much on media coverage and most electors will never meet the person they are voting for.

Mayoral elections are conducted under a very peculiar form of "supplementary vote" similar (but not identical) to the system rejected by voters at the AV referendum in May 2011. Each voter names their first choice and second choice candidates. If there is no overall winner on the first ballot, all except the two leading candidates drop out. Second preference votes from the discarded trailing candidates are then counted, provided that they voted for one of the two front runners. If they voted for somebody else then their vote is wasted, so some electors get two votes, while others only get one. It is an irrational, quirky system, that can unexpectedly hand victory to inexperienced minority candidates, as happened in Doncaster with disastrous results.

Leeds City Council is presently elected "by thirds". Three councillors represent each Council ward, with staggered, overlapping terms of office. Each year, one third of the councillors retire, having reached the end of their four-year term. They must seek re-election if they wish to serve for another stint. Next year a different third of the Council retire and may seek re-election, and the final group of councillors retire the year after that. This means that there is a local election almost every year, so that voters often get to know their local candidates personally. They can judge them as people. Electors' opinions of individual councillors make a difference, giving them an effective voice. Council seats quite often change hands, so the Party Leaders and their supporters get the voters' message, even when it is not their turn to stand for election, or if the ruling group hangs on to power for another year.

Election by thirds results in smooth transitions from one controlling political group to the next. When one party is voted out of office, other experienced local councillors are always available to take over the reins. Leeds has generally avoided those huge, disruptive lurches in policy seen after "landslide" election results. Our existing system works reasonably well in Leeds, which is why the vast majority of Leeds councillors want to keep things as they are.

Legal Background:

The option to have an Elected Mayor was introduced by section 11 in the Local Government Act 2000. This was extensively amended by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, by the Localism Act 2011 and by other legislation which may not apply in Leeds. As a result the legislation published on the Government website is more than usually opaque. If you are following these links you may need to scroll far down the page to discover what the law now says.

Last updated 18 March 2012 at 23:45. Back to the top

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Promoted by John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU