Sion Simon quit the House of Commons to campaign for an elected mayor of Birmingham before voters rejected the idea. He tells Political Editor Jonathan Walker why he blames the government for the referendum result.
The former MP who quit the House of Commons to dedicate himself to becoming mayor of Birmingham has accused the government of “losing their nerve” over big city mayors.
Sion Simon announced in February 2010 that he was leaving Westminster to campaign full-time for a city mayor, in the hope of becoming Birmingham’s first directly-elected leader.
But his dreams were crushed in a referendum on May 3 when voters in the city rejected proposals for a mayor. A breakdown of voting in the city’s 40 wards published by the city council shows that in only two wards, Ladywood and Edgbaston, did a majority support a mayor.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Mr Simon, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington from 2001 to May 2010, said the proposal was doomed to failure after the government ordered Birmingham and nine other cities to hold referendums, but then failed to explain the case for a mayor to voters.
He said: “People wrongly thought it would be an extra politician and an extra cost.
“It was never explained to people as a way of making politics more efficient and cheaper, which it would have been.
“Only government has the resources to educate and inform and explain to people what it was about, and they didn’t do that.
“I talked to thousands of people over the past two years and you only had to talk to them for them to see the benefits.
“People didn’t vote ‘no’ because they heard the arguments and rejected them – they voted ‘no’ because they didn’t hear the arguments.”
He added: “The government didn’t have the courage of their convictions. They wanted to float the idea gently and hope it would sneak through, but it doesn’t work like that.
“It was a failure of leadership by the government.”
Mr Simon also criticised “scurrilous literature” distributed by councillors opposing a mayor, but added: “When nine out of ten cities vote ‘no’, it is unlikely to be just down to that.
“It was a national failure of national political leadership.
“If you are going to have a referendum then you have a responsibility to put resources in to educating people and explaining to them what it is about. Failing to do that is pretty disgraceful.”
After dedicating his life to the mayoral campaign for so long – and surviving without a regular income – Mr Simon now faces an uncertain future.
One option he is considering is working on a novel based loosely on his time at Westminster, including stints as a minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.