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LOCAL ELECTIONS: BNP GAINS RAISE LABOUR FEARS OVER MAYORAL ELECTIONS

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The government is to shelve plans for elected mayors in Bradford and Birmingham because of fears that British Natio...
The government is to shelve plans for elected mayors in Bradford and Birmingham because of fears that British National Party candidates could perform well or even win, reported The Sunday Telegraph (p1).

The success of the BNP in last week's local elections has led to a rethink of proposals to hold mayoral polls in the cities, which have strong pockets of BNP support. Plans to compel Bradford and Birmingham to hold referendums this year were expected to be rubber-stamped by local government minister Nick Raynsford. Following the election of three BNP councillors in Burnley, however, the decision has been referred to a committee including representatives from Downing Street, the home office and the DTLR.

Although Tony Blair has long believed the creation of elected mayors can revitalise local government, his enthusiasm was dented when Ken Livingstone trounced the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson in London. Last week's mayoral victories by Stuart Drummond, who campaigned as H'Angus the Monkey in Hartlepool, and Ray Mallon, the controversial former detective superintendent, in Middlesbrough, underlined how maverick candidates can triumph in the contests.

Labour's failure to win mayoral contests in several of its strongholds was seized upon by critics within the party. Most notable was the election of a Conservative in North Tyneside - Stephen Byers's constituency territory. Ken Jackson, the union leader closest to the prime minister, called on the government to scrap plans for further mayoral elections. 'Directly-elected mayors together with the PR system used to select them are threatening to give the BNP the foothold in mainstream politics they crave', he said.

However, Mr Blair's spokesman said he remained committed to the principle of directly-elected mayors and local government reform. Deputy prime minister John Prescott [and Mr Byers] will this week publish plans for regional assemblies in England of 30 members on£50,000 salaries. Tories will oppose this, claiming Labour intends to eradicate county councils because they are a bastion of Tory power.
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