Guest post by Dr Mirza Ahmad: Current mayoral candidates represent Birmingham’s pastPosted: February 9, 2012
Dr Mirza Ahmad was until last year Corporate Director of Governance at Birmingham City Council following an 11-year career with the authority. He now works as barrister at St Philips Chambers in the city.
Let me make it clear for the record: I have supported the principle of having a strong directly elected mayor for major cities of Britain since I visited the USA on a study tour, with other top local government officials, in search of the “enabling council” in the early 1990’s.
Working within a local authority from 2000 to 2011, whose elected members have been hostile to elected mayors has, of course, prevented me from making such a positive public statement before. Those close to me, though, have known for a long time my private views and support for a directly elected mayor for Birmingham.
The strongest argument for a directly elected mayor is the direct electoral mandate that such person will command for representing the whole of the city – not just the views of a narrow political party, as currently happens with existing politicians.
I do, therefore, hope that Birmingham’s electorate will in May give a resounding “yes” for a directly elected mayor and give a bloody nose to the “nay sayers” who prefer their status quo positions.
The young people – who are undoubtedly the city’s future – are bound to be positive about this potential change in city governance and will, I am sure, embrace the excitement that such a vote will bring to the city and the region.
Better city governance and better city leadership will not only become possible, but become a reality with an elected mayor who will be able to capture the hearts and minds of the people. The strategic possibilities will be great and it will be a truly historic vote for Birmingham.
In the right hands, a directly elected mayor can bring people and best interests from all sides and persuasions around the decision-making table for best effect – regardless of political labels – and provide authentic leadership to a city and transform the city region.
An elected mayor is also more likely to build trust and connect with the people and communities as s/he will come to symbolise the hopes and futures of a million residents of Birmingham. Great city leadership will, of course, require him/her to exercise great civic responsibility and s/he will also need to exercise great diplomacy, humility and live a passion for excellence. It is, therefore, not a job for the faint hearted.
One person representing the legitimate hopes, expectations and ambitions of a million Birmingham residents can never be matched by the current position, which involves just over 50 councillors colluding together behind closed doors to appoint one of their political group leaders as the leader of the council. In reality, the current council leaders would of course have been appointed by fewer than 50 councillors from within one of the ruling political parties, based on an electoral turnout of less than 30% in a ward.
30% is hardly a sign of legitimacy to represent a million residents and, besides, such a person still only represents, in reality, his/her own views and the views of his/her political party – not the whole of Birmingham. This is an example of potentially mediocre majority decision making behind closed doors. Power by the few, for the few and it is hardly surprising that many people do not know the name of the current leader of the council.
The monthly city council meetings also show how disconnected and disinterested the vast majority of Birmingham people are with the current city council business and the current city leaders. In the real world, such meetings have little or no relevance to real people outside the Council House.
Regrettably, as for the currently declared runners for the elected mayor, they represent, for me and many others (in particular, the youth), the past, their political parties and what is wrong, now, in terms of city governance and city leadership. The current players do not represent the future or what could be possible for Birmingham if it has a directly elected mayor.
A number of current runners also lack the charisma, imagination and drive to turn Birmingham into a truly world class city that leads other cities, instead of just copying other cities and some are even comfortable with being “second best”.
So who will stand on a platform for change as elected mayor?