A very senior contact within Manchester Town Hall told me this week that there would be a three to one vote against having an elected mayor in Thursday’s referendum. But is that right?
With Liverpool set to elect Joe Anderson to this powerful post, will its big rival want to be left behind?
Most people thought Salford would reject the concept in its January referendum but although the turnout was small, I understand that in every ward there was a yes vote. That shows widespread though limited support for the idea.
That Salford is to get its local champion might be a good reason for Manchester to follow suite. The ten councils of Greater Manchester have come together in a Combined Authority sinking their local differences in the interest of all. There is concern that the Salford mayor waving his mandate from the people could destabilise things. Better then that Manchester has an elected mayor too.
Now let’s look at the candidates on offer in the two cities that are having mayoral votes on Thursday.
SALFORD MAYOR ELECTION
In Salford Labour’s candidate Ian Stewart was not a happy bunny when he lost his Eccles parliamentary seat in boundary changes in 2010. But he benefited from internal opposition to council leader John Merry to gain the nomination. He is almost certain to win and will be a doughty fighter for Salford, although his complete lack of local government experience is causing anxiety.
The two other major parties have good candidates who have served Salford well over the years. Norman Owen for the Lib Dems put a big dent in the Labour majority some years ago, but faces the problem that good work on the ground may count for little when set against his national party’s unpopularity.
Being a Conservative in Salford is never easy but Karen Garrido has battled on, often being a lone voice on the council. Her slogan in this campaign is “Trust the People”. They are unlikely to give her the answer she wants.
UKIP was ahead of the Lib Dems in one recent national opinion poll. In Salford its candidate, Bernard Gill, is claiming the money spent on regenerating The Crescent gateway to the city is a waste of money. Meanwhile the Green’s Joe O’Neill wants to cut the number of Salford councillors by a third, a policy that has merit with an elected mayor in place.
Of the other candidates, the independent Paul Massey stands out. He’s served time for a serious assault but claims his experience of the criminal world will serve the people of Salford well. David Cameron said he wanted a different type of person to come forward for elected mayor rather than the usual suspects. It’s unlikely he had Mr Massey in mind.
In Liverpool Labour’s Joe Anderson has dominated the mayoral race. He swept to power two years ago and as the Liberal Democrats have collapsed,Anderson has forged ahead with a business friendly agenda to promote the city’s economy for too long dependent on the public sector.
He has bitterly criticised the government’s cuts but readily embraced a city deal which he claims will restore some cash to the city as well as giving the elected mayor power over new improvement zones.
So keen was he to gain the fruits of the city deal that he got the council to scrap a mayoral referendum and move straight to a vote for mayor.
Anderson may win on the first ballot but it is worth mentioning that these elections are being run under a system called the supplementary vote. People can put an x in the first column of their ballot paper for their first choice and an x in the second column for their second choice.
If a candidate gets 50% of the first preference votes he is elected. If not the second choice votes for the top two candidates are counted. In theory the second candidate could overtake the first candidate in the run off.
The problem with this system is that to make your second choice count you have to guess who the top two candidates are going to be.
It is quite hard to work out who is going to finish second to Joe Anderson.
The Lib Dems have the highly experienced councillor Richard Kemp who could credibly run the city. The Conservatives have businessman Tony Caldera. He won’t win this race but if David Cameron wants to do something about the “posh boy” image of his party then he should get Tony into parliament double quick. From a market stall in Kirkby, he now runs a multi million pound soft furnishing business. His friendly and articulate manner will take him far.
Then there is my former BBC producer and friend Liam Fogarty. He has campaigned for ten years for an elected mayor against entrenched opposition to the idea from the political establishment. He is passionate about Liverpool and would seek consensus from a whole range of people about the city’s future direction. The question is would he have the stomach for the rough and tumble of city politics? He certainly merits consideration for a second choice vote.
There are two other candidates with good Town Hall experience standing. John Coyne for the Greens and Steve Radford for the Liberal Party.
Even with 12 candidates standing there isn’t a single woman. The last I would wish to highlight is Tony Mulhearn. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate has stuck to his principles ever since he was expelled from the Labour Party for his membership of Militant in the eighties. I admire him for that and his vote may be stronger than people imagine in the light of George Galloway’s success in Bradford.