The Results of the mayoral referendums continue to give succour to both sides of the argument.
The 'yes' lobbies were successful in four of the six councils that voted a fortnight ago, but the 'nos' still hold a narrow 7-6 lead overall. The issue is finely balanced however you look at it. So far, in the 13 contests outside London, 191,606 (48.8%) of all votes have been cast in favour of mayors, and 200,998 (51.2%) against them.
On the other hand, if the campaign simply revolves around how much a mayor will cost tax payers and add to bureaucracy, then the argument is likely to be lost. At Plymouth City Council, for example, where a referendum is to be held in January, the headline on the front page of a recent edition of the Plymouth Evening Herald simply read 'Bumper£65,000 pay for mayor'. A salary beyond the comprehension of most readers in the area.
Neither side can claim they have captured the public's imagination. Turnout even at those referendums held by postal ballot has rarely bettered that achieved by normal polling methods. Only at Middlesbrough did more than a quarter of the electorate vote for a mayor. At Lewisham LBC fewer than one in ten electors were prepared actively to support one. In other words, any mandate for change is based upon a small minority. If the London example has set a trend, the eventual mayoral election is unlikely to stimulate additional public interest either. Still, lest we forget, Labour was re-elected at the last general election with the support of just one in four of the electorate.
Indeed the level of turnout provides an interesting lesson about the ability of new electoral procedures to increase participation. As at the general election in June, it seems most likely that those who voted by post in the referendums were predominantly drawn from the ranks of those who tend to vote anyway. Certainly postal voting has helped to prevent the collapse in turnout seen at Kirklees MC and Sunderland City Council earlier in October, but it has yet to inspire a cohort of new voters.
In the May 2000 pilots the biggest impact of postal voting on turnout came at those councils like Gateshead MBC and Gloucester City Council which dispensed with the declaration of identity. It was this that really made voting by post a less complex and cumbersome, and therefore more widely attractive, procedure. Of course it made fraud easier, but the Electoral Commission has noted in its report on the election that 'the scope for staff to spot a fake signature was extremely limited'.
The public may yet learn to love mayors when it sees them in action. But for now their introduction relies more on the success of local political elites in initiating and then controlling the referendum campaign than grass roots clamour. We were once told by deputy prime minister John Prescott electoral reform was not a panacea for the ills of local government, but neither are elected mayors.
Electoral apathy continues to affect by-elections - average turnout during October was just 23.7%. Nevertheless, there were some interesting outcomes. The Conservatives continue to gain seats, five during the month, but the forward momentum was checked by two losses - both to Labour and both in Hyndburn BC. Labour enjoyed its best month for some time, incurring no losses and a net gain of four seats. Denied the normal publicity associated with the party conference season the Liberal Democrats will be hoping for better results in the future. The loss of five seats, though small, is not what the party has become accustomed to in recent years.
Results September 2001
Council Ward Result Majority Turnout
4 October 2001
Basildon DC Billericay West Con gain from LD 55.1 over LD 16.8
Cotswold DC Northleach Con gain from Ind 11.9 over Ind 30.1
North Dorset DC Gillingham Town LD held 29.6 over Con 29.0
North Dorset DC Wyke Con held 6.5 over LD 34.3
South Bucks. DC Burnham Church Con gain from Ind 5.1 over Ind 22.8
South Northamps DCSalcey Con held 21.0 over Lab 20.5
Stafford DC Eccleshall Con held 32.6 over LD 21.0
Stafford DC Tillington Lab held 8.2 over Con 26.0
Vale Of White Horse DCSunningwell & WoottonLD held 29.6 over Con 31.2
Wakefield MBC Horbury Lab held 12.2 over Con 16.5
Weymouth & Portland DCWestham NorthLab gain from LD 16.9 over LD 27.7
11 October 2001
Birmingham MBC Kingsbury Lab held 22.3 over Con 16.6
Ceredigion CC Aberporth LD gain from Ind 3.9 over PC 37.5
Ceredigion CC Llanbadarn Fawr PC held 14.0 over LD 24.3
Edinburgh City Broughton Lab held 20.3 over LD 21.5
Edinburgh CityS.E. Corstorphine LD held 53.4 over Lab 31.5
Hyndburn DC Huncoat Lab gain from Con 28.2 over Con 16.5
Hyndburn DC Immanuel Lab gain from Con 7.5 over Con 19.5
Mendip DC Frome Keyford Lab held 3.6 over LD 30.0
Oxford DC Blackbird Leys Lab held 54.3 over LD 11.3
South Lakeland DCLow Furness Con gain from LD 3.4 over LD 26.5
South Oxfordshire DCDidcot South Lab held 28.2 over Con 26.0
18 October 2001
Dudley MBC St. Andrews Lab held 34.1 over Con 13.6
Salisbury DC Winterbourne Con held 25.7 over LD 39.5
Tunbridge Wells DC Cranbrook Ind gain from LD 17.3 over Con 21.4
23 October 2001
Rugby DC Lawford Lab held 21.8 over Ind 19.4
25 October 2001
Blyth Valley DC Cramlington EastLab held 60.7 over Ind 13.4
Carmarthenshire CC Dafen Lab held 26.2 over PC 29.3
North Somerset Yatton LD held 2.9 over Con 29.2
Richmondshire DC Leyburn Con gain from LD 0.7 over LD 32.2
Telford & Wrekin Malinslee & LangleyLab held 20.8 over LD 13.5
Telford & Wrekin Wombridge Lab held 18.4 over Con 12.4
Wigan MBC Hindsford Lab gain from LD 5.5 over LD 19.5
Mayoral referendums 2001
Council %Yes %No %Turnout Last local %Electorate Ballot
election turnout voting 'yes' type
Berwick-upon -Tweed BC 26.2 73.8 63.8- 42.8 16.7 In person
Brighton & Hove City Council37.962.1 31.6 39.1 12.0 Postal
Cheltenham BC 32.7 67.3 31.0 32.1 10.2 Postal
Doncaster MBC 64.6 35.4 25.4 26.2 16.4 Postal
Gloucester City 32.1 67.9 30.8 29.8 9.9 Postal
Hartlepool BC 50.9 49.1 33.9 26.8 17.3 Postal
Kirklees MC 26.7 73.3 13.0 31.7 3.5 In person
Lewisham LBC 51.4 48.6 18.3 30.7 9.4 Postal
Middlesbrough Council 84.3 15.7 34.3 36.1 28.9 Postal
North Tyneside MBC 57.6 42.4 36.0 35.7 20.7 Postal
Sedgefield BC 47.2 52.8 33.3 33.6 15.7 Postal
Sunderland City 43.4 56.6 10.0 18.8 4.3 In person
Watford BC 51.7 48.3 24.5 26.7 12.7 Postal
-Held on general election day, June 7 2001.
Source: Referendum results courtesy of David Cowling, BBC Political Research