All the fun of the elected mayor fair – roll up, roll up. Step forward for the coconut shy... see how many candidates you can knock over before the race starts properly.
Well, come on, it is hardly a surprise that the citizens of Birmingham are largely disinterested when nobody knows what they will be voting for in the upcoming referendum.
This is not New York where the mayor runs the show. This is not London where Ken and Boris at least provide some entertainment … this is am dram Birmingham.
The few that bother to turn out on May 3 will be voting for a ‘concept’ because the Government has failed to spell out the powers of an elected mayor. And voting for a concept is an act of faith.
There are simply more questions than answers. How will an elected mayor relate to councillors, MPs and lobby groups? Where will accountability start and finish?
London is in many ways a country in its own right – Birmingham does not compare and so neither should the mayor’s powers. Arguably Birmingham is too small because so many issues run wider. But Birmingham, the Black Country and Coventry & Warwickshire continue to squabble and probably always will.
The Government and civil servants won’t want to risk devolving real power to a ‘hotchpotch’.
I think the referendum will be close.
Two things are clear – first Labour will take over the council in the other May 3 decision and, given that, they have to be favourites if there is an elected mayor contest.
Labour has Liam Byrne, Gisela Stuart and Sion Simon.
If Labour dare not risk a by-election, Simon will probably be the victor; if not, then the tea leaves suggest the ‘dream team’ of Byrne and Sir Albert Bore.
It’s a clever move by Sir Albert – he is in a win-win situation. If there is a yes in the referendum he stands to become deputy mayor and if there is a no he is council leader.
No doubt there will be others – Mike Whitby has the experience – but I don’t believe a maverick ‘bring in the clowns’ candidate will come through to challenge.
I have nothing against elected mayors so long as they have more substance than lunches, dinners and driving around in MAYOR 1.
* Lord Bhattacharyya is a Labour peer and founder of Warwick Manufacturing Group