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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
West Midlands: Government 'night-mayor'
Nick Watson
Nick Watson
The Politics Show
West Midlands

Former Lord Mayor of London, Michael Savory
Whilst being resplendent, this is not the image of a Mayor for 2006

Revolution is in the air in the Potteries, as a campaign to abolish the post of directly-elected Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent begins to gather pace.

"Democracy 4 Stoke" claims that 4,000 people have already signed a petition calling for the post to be scrapped.

They are aiming to collect 10,000 signatures before Christmas and hope eventually to trigger a referendum on the issue.

The current Mayor is Labour's Mark Meredith.

He was elected with a thumping majority in 2005, taking the job from the Independent Mike Wolfe.

Stoke-on-Trent has traditionally been a Labour stronghold, but bringing the job back into the political fold has not ended criticism of the way in which the Mayoral system works.

In fact, quite the opposite.

Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Mark Meredith
Mark Meredith, a mayor with splits in the Labour ranks

Splitting Labour

The move to oust the Mayor has actually split the local Labour party as Democracy 4 Stoke is being led by Labour councillor Mike Barnes.

But it is not just a war within the Labour group.

Stoke's Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are also supporting Democracy 4 Stoke with only the British National Party, which has five councillors, saying they back the present system.

So is the campaign all about councillors trying to protect their interests or is there more to it than that?

On their website, Democracy 4 Stoke outlines its manifesto for change.

"The system which supports the office of Elected Mayor and Council Manager is undemocratic, paternalistic and unsafe".

It is about changing a system in which people are distant from the decision making that affect their local communities
Cllr Mike Barnes

In fact Stoke is the only area of the 12, with adopted elected Mayors, which has the model of Mayor plus Council manager to run the city's affairs.

"Let me make it absolutely clear that this is not about personalities or individuals or their ability to be elected mayor," says Cllr Mike Barnes in his manifesto.

"It is about changing a system in which people are distant from the decision making that affect their local communities.

"It is about having a local government system in place in which everybody is clear about who is making those decisions and ultimately who is responsible.

"Ultimately it's about empowering local people to elect local people to make democratic decisions based on sound reason and argument."

Bad timing

What Democracy 4 Stoke is proposing is a return to the old system where there is a council leader and councillors are then appointed to chair the important committees.

For the government, the timing couldn't be worse.

The new Local Government White Paper, which is due soon, is thought to recommend the expansion of the directly-elected Mayor principle - this time at the head of a series of new City Regions.

With an active campaign against the Mayoral system up and running in Stoke-on-Trent and others already underway in Hartlepool, Doncaster and the London boroughs of Lewisham and Newham, it seems that the issue could be turning into something of a "nightmayor" for the government.

Also in the programme...

Congestion zone sign in London
Could this be a common site on city roads in the West Midlands?

Would you be happy to pay up to an extra 17p a mile to drive on the roads of the West Midlands?

Despite the apparent success of London's congestion charge, the idea has not caught on in this part of the world - not that congestion is not a problem here of course!

Ring-fencing parts of the centres of our cities, as in London, has proved unpopular with businesses concerned about loss of trade.

The same goes for so-called zonal systems that would see motorists charged for driving across carefully defined boundaries.

The fear here is that some places could turn into ghost towns as motorists try to dodge the charge.

So that leaves a pay-as-you-drive charge levied at anywhere between 13p and 27p - but would the public buy it?

The carrot would see the cash reinvested in public transport - but is that tempting enough?

Our transport correspondent Peter Plisner has been finding out.

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