Thursday, May 03, 2012

Leicester's Mayor sacks the man supposed to scrutinise him

From today's Leicester Mercury:
The man in charge of holding Leicester's city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby to account has been ousted from the role after a delivering a series of stinging criticisms. 
Former council leader Ross Willmott has chaired the panel of councillors which scrutinises the decisions of the mayor since last May's election. 
However, after making public criticisms of Sir Peter on various issues, he has been replaced by Ted Cassidy.
And who did the ousting? Step forward the dominant figure in the Leicester Labour Party, Sir Peter Soulsby.

If an elected mayor can remove the chair of the committee meant to keep an eye on him, then the mayoral system becomes farcical.

The enjoyable personal animosity between Willmott and Soulsby has been just about the only thing keeping democracy alive in a city with a Labour elected Mayor and 52 out of 54 Labour councillors. As a Labour insider quoted by the Mercury says:
"Ross has been a thorn in the side of the city's leadership for the past year. His efforts were partly fuelled by their mutual dislike and the fact that Ross really wanted the mayor's job. Nonetheless, his efforts were good for democracy."
Quite. And his removal is bad for democracy.

As I have long argued, the situation in Leicester shows that if we are to have elected city mayors then the councils must be elected by a proportional system to prevented their being dominated by the mayor's own party.

At the very least councils must be barred from holding the mayoral and all-out elections at the same time, as happened in Leicester last May.

There is another worrying  factor in Leicester politics as they are now conducted, and that is patronage.

Following the decision whipped through council by Soulsby himself, he has in his gift salaries for five of the city councillors - one deputy and four assistants. I can see he might need a deputy, but quite what an assistant mayor does is a mystery to everyone I have asked.

This is a powerful weapon in a city where many Labour councillors seems to think that the role ought to provide them with a living wage.

When you add this power of patronage to the fear of the Labour whip and the loss of Willmott animosity, it is easy to see there is a risk that there will be no effective scrutiny of the mayor in Leicester at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the Mercury article - "The decision was taken at a meeting on Tuesday to decide who should head the council's committees.

Labour members on the city council – excluding the mayor and some of his senior colleagues – vote annually on which councillors should hold key committee positions."

So not 'ousted' by Soulsby?