BBC Home > BBC News > England

Can an elected mayor represent all in East End seat?

24 April 10 09:26 GMT

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC London News

It is one of the most diverse boroughs in the country.

Somali, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Caribbean people are among the dozens of communities who have settled there in recent decades.

Tower Hamlets, in east London, spreads from the banks' skyscraper headquarters in Canary Wharf in the south to the artistic community's galleries in the north of the borough.

The church spires of Stepney and Shadwell are as famous to its residents as the mosques around Brick Lane.

On 6 May, its people will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether the borough should have a directly-elected mayor instead of the current council cabinet system.

And politicians have been passionately putting forward the cases for and against whether one mayor can represent the diverse needs of Tower Hamlets' people.

'Worst borough'

An elected mayor would serve a four-year term with more direct control over council services than the existing leader of the council or ceremonial mayor.

He or she would also be able to appoint non-elected advisors.

The petition calling for a referendum was proposed by councillors from the Respect Party and more than 10,000 signatures were gathered.

George Galloway, Respect's parliamentary candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, said Tower Hamlets was the "worst borough in England" and said he believed a directly-elected mayor would help "fix it".

"Tower Hamlets has had four leaders in five years," he said.

"Few of them have lingered in the memory and the circumstances of their removal are deeply obscure.

"Meanwhile, we have the longest council waiting list in the country, we have the third most deprived borough in England - nobody can get anywhere near the town hall, which is through the security barrier at Canary Wharf."

But Labour council candidate Doros Ullah said a directly-elected mayor would not be able to represent the views of all community members.

"Tower Hamlets is a diverse community, therefore it is important to have representation from all members of the community sharing power," he says.

'Blinkered view'

"A mayor-run local council is not the best way to make sure that all communities get a fair share of the pie.

"Giving too much power to one individual would not be able to effectively serve the needs of the community."

Liberal Democrat council candidate, Tim O'Flaherty, agreed, saying: "It's a very bad idea to have one person in charge of the majority of the budget for Tower Hamlets.

"One person can have a very blinkered point of view and not a whole-hearted point of view of the 51 councillors."

However, Mr Galloway puts forward a democratic case for an elected mayor.

"A directly-elected mayor has to attract the votes of 51% of the people," he said.

"There's no community that has 51% of the population in the borough. So it's a huge step forward in that sense."

Zakir Khan, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow, also supports the principle of having a directly-elected mayor.

"A person accountable to residents for four years will be better placed to implement and deliver policy than a leader elected for one year," he said.

'Extremely silly'

But Labour's Mr Ullah said: "Giving power to a single person will not be democratic. It will be autocratic.

"To have a directly-elected mayor in place would mean we would not be able to remove that person from office unless they do something extremely silly."

Nevertheless, Labour has supported directly-elected mayors in other London boroughs.

Neighbouring east London boroughs of Hackney and Newham have already had directly-elected Labour mayors, as has Lewisham, across the river in south London.

If there is a "yes" outcome to the Tower Hamlets referendum, the mayoral elections would take place in the autumn.

So would Mr Galloway consider himself a future candidate for the post?

"Unlikely," he said.

"But politicians never say, 'never'."

• Candidates declared so far for Bethnal Green and Bow are: Labour: Rushanara Ali; Green: Farid Bakht; Independent: Patrick Brooks; Independent: Haji Choudhury; United Voice: Hasib Hikmat; Conservative: Zakir Khan; Independent: Ahmed Malik; British National Party: Jeffrey Marshall; Liberal Democrat: Ajmal Masroor; Respect-Unity Coalition: Abjol Miah; Pirate Party UK: Alexander van Terheyden.

• Candidates declared so far for Poplar & Limehouse are: Conservative: Tim Archer; Labour: Jim Fitzpatrick; Liberal Democrat: Jonathan Fryer; Respect-Unity Coalition: George Galloway; Independent: Mohammed Hoque; UK Independence Party: Wayne Lochner; Independent: Kabir Mahmud; English Democrats: Andrew Osborne; Green: Chris Smith; Independent: Jim Thornton.

Share this

Related BBC sites