There are over 400 local authorities in the UK with Leaders of the Council whom Councillors can elect and if necessary remove from office at any time of their choosing. There are just 15 Councils, including Torbay, with directly elected Mayors whom neither Councillors nor the public can remove during their term of office.
There is a 16th elected Mayor but this post has far less power than the others as most functions are still carried out by the London Borough Councils and the post holder is held in check by a special 25 member Assembly.
Boris is the least powerful, although probably the most influential because he covers the capital, of all the elected Mayors.
Both leaders and elected Mayors have great powers of patronage to appoint Councillors to positions with additional monetary allowances. Unlike a Leader who needs a majority to achieve anything an elected Mayor only needs a third of the Council not to oppose any of his or her plans to be unassailable.
In Torbay over a third of the Council are in paid posts given to them by the Mayor making the votes of the rest of the Council redundant unless ruling group members are prepared to resign their remunerated posts.
There is a Scrutiny Board to hold the elected Mayor to account. This is appointed by the Council and not the Mayor. But in Torbay the Mayor is also the majority Conservative Group Leader so he effectively decides who holds him to account.
Under the Leader system the Council provides the scrutiny to hold the Leader to account for his or her actions, often with an opposing group leader shadowing him or her.
No such position exists within a council under an elected mayoral system which is one its biggest drawbacks.
MPs have shadows whose aim is to try and win the seat from them at a future election. I’ve had Wyatt Twerp, the Man from Windsor and now the Coventry Kid, all keeping an eye on my actions at Westminster and in the constituency, and those are just the Conservative Party candidates.
In the absence of a similar arrangement for elected Mayors members of the public, businesses and organisations look to the MP to do what a shadow Leader and Councillors used to be able to do, and that is to amend or stop the actions of the majority group.
This is not a welcome development as the system in my experience that worked best was when the MPs and the Leader worked together, leaving Councillors to get on with overseeing services.
I worked with both Conservative and Liberal Democrat Leaders of the Council and agreed and disagreed in equal measure with all of them! But there was never any question as to who was responsible for what and who did or didn’t have a mandate for the actions being taken.
Fact is, even allowing for the smaller electorate, any MP for Torbay is likely to poll more votes than any elected Mayor given the higher turnouts at General Elections.
As it stands the current Mayor received just 10,630 votes across a bay-wide electorate of 103,981 compared to my 23,126 votes within a smaller electorate of 76,155.
It isn’t healthy for local democracy for an elected Mayor to have such a weak comparative mandate, and it really shouldn’t be the role of the area’s representative in Westminster to be seen as the opposition to the elected Mayor.
It is not a role I have chosen for myself but in the absence of a sensible democratic framework for local decision making the public have been turning in ever increasing numbers to their MPs in areas with elected mayors to raise council issues.
It is my ardent wish that the 2015 Mayoral election will be the last one and the public will exercise their right – delayed for five years by the last Labour government – to hold a referendum and vote to return to a system where decisions are considered, scrutinised and shared, and not left in the hands of one all powerful individual.
I think given their experience of two elected mayors over the past 13 years the people of Torbay will vote for a return to democracy over dictatorship when given the chance, and that poll can’t come soon enough.