1990s >> 1998 >> no-1124-april-1998

Editorial: The London Referendum

The referendum in London on 7 May is a farce. For a start, full details of what is involved were only made public in March, so there has not been enough time for a proper debate. Second, there is no provision for equal time to be given to both the “yes” and the “no” sides. So the media will be free to give an unfair advantage to the government case for voting “yes”, as they shamelessly did during the referendums in Scotland and Wales. Third, the question is rigged. If you want an elected assembly for London (as most people do since this is an elementary democratic measure) you can’t vote for this without at the same time voting for an elected mayor who will have more power than the assembly. So you don’t have the choice of saying “yes” to an elected assembly but “no” to an elected mayor.

This neo-Tory Labour government talks a lot about democracy and democratic reform but in practice resorts to the same underhand tactics to get its way as do governments everywhere. It has linked the two questions so as to be sure to get its dubious proposal for a London City Boss through on the back of popular support for the restoration of an elected London council.

We in the Socialist Party are well aware that in the end whatever arrangements are adopted for local government in London won’t make much difference. This is because such arrangements are to be implemented within the context of the profit system, whose economic mechanisms require all levels of government, however structured, to trim their spending so as not to endanger profit levels whatever people may want–or vote for.

Even so, an elected mayor is not a good idea. As the title of the government’s Green Paper–New Leadership for London— proclaims, this is a proposal to elect a Leader for London. This Leader will not just have more power than the elected assembly but will be paid a fat cat salary (so as to remove, it is said, the temptation to be corrupt) and have the remit of managing London as if it were a capitalist enterprise. The whole proposal is a travesty of democracy.

Democracy means participating in the running of affairs, not following leaders. The proposal for an elected mayor is a proposal to endorse what passes for democracy under capitalism: a choice not of alternative social systems or even policies but of rival leaders who are all packaging and no substance. Tony Banks, David Mellor, Chris Patten, who has the best smile? Who cares? But worse, it encourages people to think that some Leader can solve society’s problems for them, whereas these problems can only be solved by people refusing to follow leaders and acting for themselves. The only kind of politics that is going to work is a do-it-yourself politics aimed at abolishing the profit system.

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