Manchester City Council

Democracy at Work?

Full Council meeting today. The Council's business largely consists of receiving the minutes of the Executive Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Committees, and Licensing and Planning committees that have met over the last eight weeks. Although the minutes can be debated, thanks to a bit of misguided legislation by the previous government wholly supported by the present one, decisions, particularly decisions of the Executive cannot be overturned by the full Council. There are some major policy decisions reserved for the Council not least the budget but my view is that the inability to overturn or refer back Executive decisions is undemocratic.

I try to take a moderate position on the issue of directly elected mayors but under current legislation this democratic deficit would deepen with a directly elected mayor as they would only need the support of a third of the Council to get their budget proposals agreed. How democratic is that? Democracy needs checks and balances and although the power to scrutinise is important I do think it is insufficient on its own and whatever form of city and Council leadership we have, if a proposal can't get the support of half the Council then it should fall. Back to the current system - that the Council can't overturn Executive decisions has tended to make Council meetings a bit empty with a few show-piece debates on Notices of Motion, resolutions submitted to the Council in the names of five or more Councillors. On the agenda today, 20mph zones, youth unemployment and Withington Green. I would certainly like to see 20mph zones more widely extended across the city. In most residential areas, away from the main roads, you can't drive any faster than that safely anyway and we know that when it comes to road safety, speed kills. Regarding Youth Unemployment, there is a real risk that we will end up with another " lost generation " as we did in the eighties, something for which Manchester and other former industrial towns and cities are still paying the price.

There are 18 responses to “Democracy at Work?”

  1. Marc Hudson Says:

    Nice to see that the full council agreed with you on 20mph. When might the report be ready to go to Executive? Here's our report on today's meeting, btw.

  2. Ste Says:

    20mph zones sound fine but as published in the papers this week Manchester is the most conjested city in the land, Manchester appears to be falling into a big hole , I cannot remember so many roadworks, I know you do not want me to use a car anymore but I do use is a lot in my job and a normal 15 min trip now takes over 40 mins so I think 20mph zones are not needed as I never seen able to go over 20mph in the City anyway

  3. Chris Paul Says:

    Funnily enough Ste, results of serious research show that there are many circumstances in which _lower_ speed limits _shorten_ the average journey time over those networks.

    However the proposal, which I whole heartedly support, for 20 mph to be a more usual limit in residential streets is for just that - residential streets, the "off roads" - and main roads would not be covered.

  4. i love jack russels Says:

    There's nothing democratic about central government forcing local government to hold expensive elected mayor rerendums and elections (supposedly in the interests of 'localism' and local people deciding what is best for them - so long as it's what central government want of course) and then having the farce of having to have an elected mayor because LESS than 1 in 10 of the population have said yes. This means that more than 9 out of 10 people either don't want one or have no view whatsoever. Hardly an overwhelming vote for change.

  5. alan Says:

    Oh No mr leese not another bloody consultation!!! Another pack of lies because most people know this councils reports and consultations have alreday had the decsisions made and no matter how many reports , consultations you have they will make nt a scrap of difference. Ask my sister who is about to be out of a job from one of your surestart centers The consultation they had they were told 2 thirds of people opposed the cuts and YET!!!!. Surprise Surprise they are still happening so whether we can do 10 20 or 30 milesan hour on manchesters roads the descisions will, of alreday been made .

  6. Adam Quimby Says:

    @Ilovejackrussells You said that there's nothing democratic about central government forcing local government to hold expensive elected mayor rerendums and elections – Aren’t referendums and elections a tool of democracy? Aren’t they supposed to give you a say on whether the proposal should go ahead? I’m not sure how asking people to decide is undemocratic. If the referendum is held and the answer is yes then surely it’s not a farce as that is what people have decided. If the other 9 in 10 don’t want it then surely all they need to do is vote against it? I’m not sure it’s reasonable to suggest apathy is a reason for not holding a referendum or an election. If you don’t vote in a referendum or an election than as Tony Benn says, you have no right to complain.

  7. Lazyitis Says:

    Just a suggestion:
    'Ritual in disgust is not the same as apathy'

  8. E Says:

    Alan - Your post is inaccurate. I suggest you read todays (Friday's) Manchester Evening News. Clearly democracy in action. The people reacted to the consultation, and the Council listened.

  9. Jack Evans Says:

    Mr Leese, I would comment that you know nothing about democracy in action, but actually you really do and you know full well that Councils and in particular Manchester is one of the most undemocratic in the UK. Please don't pretend that Manchester is. What Manchester needs is not only an elected Mayor but a mayor who is Independent of the party system.

  10. franky Says:

    You are right, what sort of democracy is it that the council cannot reject/refer back exec decisions. What happens when the mayor is the executive?

  11. i love jack russels Says:

    Adam - I agree with you about elections. And certainly if all those people who never bother to vote had turned out in May 2010, the country might be in a better state today. And I agree that if you can't be bothered to turn out then you don't have much right to moan about what you get. The turn out for general and local elections is depressingly low - something I think that this government is cynically using to its own advantage and to pursue its own agenda through these referendums. In an ideal world everyone would just make the effort to vote - especially now you can get postal votes. And referendums should be for an extrordinary reason for which there is a reasonable assumption that many people have strong views on. I disagree with how the whole elected mayors and elected police commissioners thing has been pushed through by central government, to the point where they have offered what can only be called bribe money to Liverpool to get them to have theirs sooner. And I object to the word localism being used to describe a centrally driven process.

  12. Adam Quimby Says:

    @Ilovejackrussells I suspect low turnout is something that can be and has been used to all political parties advantage in certain circumstances. A political part naturally would seek to pursue its own agenda when it uses any instrument power – not just a referendum. A political party wouldn’t, logically, be seeking to advance anyone else’s agenda through a referendum as far as I can imagine. I’m not sure that from your perspective that it would be ideal for everyone to vote. Theoretically many of the people in England tend to be of a Conservative point of view. Boundary changes are likely to enhance this position, so really you would perhaps want only the people who support your party (if not Conservative) to vote. Postal votes, in my own view have strong disadvantages and I much prefer the idea of physically turning up. You said referendums should be for extraordinary decision making. I agree. Arguably changing from our present Council Leader system to an elected Mayor model is extraordinary and may lead to leaders popular in their party being ousted by the general public. I can’t comment on you bribe statement as I haven’t seen your evidence for it and I don’t quite understand what you mean when you describe localism being used to describe a centrally driven process. But a good discussion nonetheless.
    @Lazyitis 'Ritual in disgust is not the same as apathy' – Not just R.E.M. lyrics, eh? What about demonstrating disgust by spoiling your paper instead? It’s a far more robust approach than not turning up. If you don’t turn up you can also be accused of being lazy.

  13. Lazyitis Says:

    @Adam Quimby. I wasn't referring to myself, i've always voted, more a general feeling that people are sick of politics and politicians, which leads to the opinion that: 'they're all the same anyway, so I'm not voting'. i.e, not apathy, just disgust at what you're left with after voting. Also, spoiled ballot papers get chucked in the bin, it's hardly 'sticking it to the man'
    Well spotted on the lyrics, the full lyric is :'Richard said ritual in disgust is not the same as apathy' referring to a quote by Richard Linklater, director of Slacker, Dazed and Confused etc.

  14. Adam Quimby Says:

    @lazyitis “spoiled ballot papers get chucked in the bin, it's hardly 'sticking it to the man'”. This isn’t the case. In my experience they are counted to ensure all the figures match. So, for instance if there was 100 votes this would be – Labour: 25, Conservative: 25, Lib Dem: 25 and Spoiled: 25. It’s just unlikely that the number of spoiled ballots would be published or noted by the press. The same number of ballot paper issued at polling should equal the number of those counted on the night, otherwise there is the potential for mass discrepancies and mischief – so no chucking in the bin. In my example where there is an equal spread and the spoiled papers have had a massive impact as one of them would have elected the parties.

  15. lazyitis Says:

    @Adam Quimby. Fair enough in that extreme example. I've always found the (purposely) spoilt papers so signify the ultimate act of futility.

  16. Adam Quimby Says:

    @lazyitis Of course if you really find the options available on the ballot paper so futile, you could put yourself forward for election. This would be a test of how palatable your views are to everyone else. If you work hard enough at it, you might actually win and could help effect the change you want to see…

  17. Lazyitis Says:

    @Adam Quimby. I could do that of course, but what sane person would want to get involved in that snake pit (present company excepted)? As I mentioned before, I always vote. I commented as I wanted to give a different point of view to those who say that low voter turnout is due to apathy. Don't let my AKA fool you (sure you know the song).

  18. Richard Says:

    Democracy is dead in the UK. There is NO doubt about it.



The blog of the leader of Manchester City Council, Councillor Richard Leese.

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