Loony left paranoia and executive mayors | Letter

Anti-democratic legislation was forced through during Tony Blair’s administration, says Gerry Harrison. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

What Councillor John Whitworth has so well articulated (Letters, 1 March) is the inevitable result of anti-democratic legislation forced through by the Labour government of Tony Blair’s first administration. The Local Government Act 2000 was was a result of paranoia about uncontrolled “loony left” Labour councils. It was decided to impose controls from the top by means of directly elected mayors and the abolition of all-party council committees. These were to be replaced by executives or cabinets nominated by the mayor. This legislation, which had not been mentioned in the previous Labour manifesto, was driven by an outfit called the New Local Government Network, which was funded by out-sourcing bodies such as Capita.

Directly elected mayors were subject to referendum, but early results showed that people preferred the previous, more ceremonial mayors working alongside council leaders. They wisely suspected the amassing of power and “personality politics” which would ensue. With the abolition of committees, new councillors, and particularly those from opposition parties, had no say in contributing to policy by debate or consensus, and were instead fobbed off with alleged powers of overview and scrutiny. This has led to the cronyism of those in power and marginalised those on the back benches or in opposition.

During this time I was proud of being a mainstream Labour councillor in a progressive Camden council, which opposed these so-called reforms and led to the government having to invoke the Parliament Act in the House of Lords to see its legislation through. Its consequence is now seen in the unwillingness of many people to stand for local election and in the dismay of many who win their seats.
Gerry Harrison
Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland

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