A campaign has been launched to introduce a directly elected mayor to Hammersmith & Fulham LBC.
Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands (Con), a former chief secretary to the Treasury who is spearheading the campaign to switch from traditional leader and cabinet to an executive mayor system, claims that a directly elected mayor would be “more accountable, more democratic and more effective”.
The mayoral system, which concentrates more power in borough leader, was devised by Tony Blair and introduced in 2000. It is used in Labour-run Hackney, Newham, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets LBCs.
Last week, a petition was launched, and if 6,313 signatures (5% of voters) backing the concept can be collected within the next year, then it will go to a referendum and if passed, the first mayoral election would be in 2022.
Stephen Greenhalgh, a former deputy London mayor to Boris Johnson and leader of the council from 2006 to 2012, is being tipped as the Tory candidate if the system is chosen. However, speaking to LGC he did not deny this but said: “Let’s not put the cart before the horse”.
“I have always thought this was a very sensible Blairite policy to take local control,” he said. ”We think that a directly elected mayor would enable residents to have more accountability, so people could say ‘that’s the person taking decisions’ because the buck stops with the mayor.
“It looks like the incumbent [Labour] administration are opposed to it. They are positioning themselves as a Blairite council, and [the mayoral system] was a Blairite reform for local government. It’s all about championing direct democracy.
“The engagement I have had with people so far is that they feel it’s very ill advised of councils to collect [higher rates of] council tax, using Brexit as an excuse.”
In 2006, Mr Greenhalgh became leader of Hammersmith and Fulham MBC by what he describes as “a phenomenal majority” and remained as leader until he went to City Hall in 2012. The balance of power on the council has been in the Labour party’s favour since 2014.
“The swing against the Conservatives was in the last two elections - but 2022 is still a along way off,” said Mr Greenhalgh.
Explaining his decision to campaign for a directly elected mayor, Mr Hands said he had been a ”fan of direct democracy and directly-elected Mayors for decades”. He added: ”The current Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham is only elected by 2,000 people and is largely unknown to the people of the borough. If enough residents sign this petition and the H&F Mayoral referendum is won, then local residents will have a real choice on who they want to lead the council.”