Birmingham and leadership: A challenge to democracy

Birmingham is to have a new leader. And we don’t get to vote. No-one does, apart from the outgoing leader and 77 other Labour councillors.

The leader of Birmingham City Council is potentially the third most important figurehead in the county: after the PM and London Mayor. There is control over millions and millions in council budget.

But: the majority of the one million people in Birmingham haven’t a clue who they are.

And that’s not least because they have no direct say in how they get there.

Sir Albert Bore, who is to step down, may have deserved all the plaudits he’s got for his work — but the truth is that who ends up leading Birmingham is decided behind closed doors. It’s luck, and friendships when it should be democracy and accountability.

We have a democratic deficit in the city: power is devolved to unelected groups of ‘business leaders’, council services are tied up in monolithic commercial contracts, there’s talk of wider bodies to which the public have no access. To have the leader of the council also ‘unelected’ is too much.

We believe that true power should only come with accountability and openness. So we ask those who have the power currently to work to change the system, but also to do what they can now.

We ask Labour Councillors, pledge to:

  • Be open about your positions on the leadership.
  • Take soundings from your constituents.
  • Listen to the people of Birmingham before you vote.

Leadership contenders, we ask you to pledge to :

  • Produce and publish a plain English manifesto with your vision for Birmingham and how you’d get there.
  • Commit to open hustings.
  • Talk to the public directly, your national party’s leadership understands the power of social media — use it.

Other public figures, both inside and outside the Labour party, also have a duty to encourage openness and change in this process. MPs, you have a platform, please use it for democracy.

Let’s make Birmingham democratic. Please ask your elected representatives to commit to these pledges, sign this petition.

Author: Jon Bounds

Jon was voted the ‘14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands’ in 2008. Subsequently he has not been placed. He’s been a football referee, venetian blind maker, cellar man, and a losing Labour council candidate: “No, no chance. A complete no-hoper” said a spoilt ballot. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama performed on Twitter when he persuaded a cast including MPs and journalists to give over their timelines to perform Twitpanto. But all that is behind him.