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Mayoral Referendum

I was one of the co-chairs of the No campaign in Birmingham. I won't reiterate the detailed arguments against a Directly Elected Mayor (DEM). All of that information is available on the No to a power freak website.

Initially it was thought that the "yes" campaign would have an easy victory. However, on the day, of the 10 referenda mandated by central government, 9 went against a DEM. Only Bristol Voted YES.

Birmingham was 57.8% against. The sequence was Sheffield 65, Coventry 63.6, Leeds 63.3, Wakefield 62, Newcastle 62, Birmingham 57.8, Nottingham 57.5, Bradford 55.1, Manchester 53.2, Bristol 46.7.

I have ignored Doncaster (62% for retaining the DEM). That is because the Doncaster result was one where it was really about Labour trying to get rid of the incumbent English Democrat DEM.

There are a number of interesting aspects of this. The Bristol vote was an isolated vote when there were not also local elections. However, if you look at the turnout in Bristol compared to Birmingham even if all of the extra voters were No voters then it would still have marginally passed.

I think one of the reasons for the Bristol yes vote was that Bristol has had a lot of changes of control on the City Council in recent years.

However, otherwise the referenda were basically substantial no votes. I think part of this was that there was in fact a small amount of public debate in the national media as a result of the holding of what was in essence a national referendum on the issue. Normally the details are not gone into and the superficiality of the yes arguments is not challenged.

Also Manchester's administration has a good press, but in fact was the most likely to be turfed out by a DEM (of those cities that voted no).

One of the things the referendum campaigns did at the count was to review the ballot papers and particularly the doubtful ballot papers. In Birmingham over 5,000 people's votes were rejected.

Some wrote on the ballot paper that they didn't have enough information. The brochure which went to every household was the result of a debate between the City Council and DCLG and would have been far better had it had a "yes" and "no" page from the campaigns.

A second and perhaps more significant issue is that ballot papers where the word "yes" was writen on them were counted, but those with the word "no" written on them were not. This was in accordance with the guidance (I think page 16). This is very wrong and is entirely the fault of the electoral commission.

The argument is that if someone writes the word "no" in one of the boxes then it is not clear what they are saying "no" to. That is a valid argument, but it raises the question about whether the question was a proper question.

I think there is a big problem when the campaign is all about "yes" or "no" and then there is no clarity on the ballot paper which is yes and which is no. The process should be road tested to a much greater extent. About 2.5% of votes were not counted for various reasons.

We really do need to look properly at the spoilt ballots issue and the Electoral Commission need to do a far better job about how we can have proper referenda and truly get the views of those people who wish to express a viewpoint.

I believe that yes spent about £20,000 in Birmingham (if you ignore all the promotion done by certain bodies who pretended to be objective, but in fact were promoting a DEM). We spent around £2,500 (mainly £1,500 on the first leaflet) which is below the declaration limit.

Wikipedia has a page about the Mayoral Referenda across the country on Thursday as well as a more general page about referenda for anyone else interested.


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R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

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R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

November 9 1923

Editor’s comments in bold.

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