As residents of one east London borough battle to obtain the most basic democratic rights its neighbouring borough is looking to the future of its democratic process.

The 124-page Newham Democracy and Civic Participation Report is the result of the Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz OBE pledging to create a Democracy and Civic Participation Commission to look at alternatives to the Directly Elected Mayor model which will be put to voters to determine in a local referendum.

What could possibly go wrong?

The report is a long but interesting read (if you are a political geek like Moley) and has some very good ideas in it.

There is one paragraph early on which should give cause to doubt the sanity of the report’s authors however. Read this.

“On balance, the Commission considers that the Mayoral model remains both a democratic and effective way to govern the London Borough of Newham. The advantages of a Mayoral system are that it:

  • Provides direct accountability through the ballot box for a specific individual with executive powers [No it doesn’t.]
  • Ensures visible democratic leadership to local residents [Never happened here, never will happen here.]
  • Produces an individual who, by virtue of their large electoral mandate, is able to take a robust leadership role across the place, particularly with regard to regeneration and economic development [This would be funny if it was not so tragic.]
  • Can ensure relatively stable and consistent leadership over the period of the term of office [OK, they are having a laugh.]

Never-ending train wreck

Sceptical? Moi? Things must work differently down the road, but in Tower Hamlets the whole Directly Elected Mayor scheme has been one never-ending train wreck since the referendum on the issue was rigged by Respect back in 2010.

It does seem however that local politics is radically different in Newham so lucky them.

Moley has not got enough time to write a detailed critique of the report so best you download it and read it yourselves.

We found the section on Democracy, Data & Innovation (p70) to be the most interesting bit as it discusses different ways of collecting, storing and using data that are available to public authorities, and how these can be more or less open, democratic and privacy-respecting.

“In Newham, the opportunity exists to follow those city and local governments that use data and digital tools to promote democracy, innovation in services and local economic activity, and transparent, accountable political leadership.”

(If Newham and Tower Hamlets were to work together on such a plan it could be very interesting indeed. Maybe even bring in revenue.)

Hopefully Newham is better wired up than Tower Hamlets as the previous administration never showed any interest in talking to the telecommunications companies to get the borough wired with high capacity interweb access and it’s unlikely the current lot have either. (Correct us if we are wrong.)

Support independent what?

Moley nearly choked on his breakfast tea and toast when he read the bit on p85 where the Commission recommends ‘the creation of a cooperative, citizens’ media organisation in Newham, funded in a start-up phase through an endowment. This would support independent journalism and enhanced democratic debate in the borough.’

Democratic dibble? Democratic debubble? Oh! Debate. As to the notion of independent journalism for the community that is a plain stupid idea.

The classic example of a cooperative, citizens’ media organisation is the Bristol Cable. Check them out.

The Newham Democracy and Civic Participation Report shows that there are local politicians in east London who are open to new ideas. Weird, huh?

Moley prefers the idea of a people’s revolution purely because he could spend many days burrowing under the barricades.

Photo of Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz OBE

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz OBE

Editors note: Reading the standard biography of the Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz OBE our entire editorial team were struck by her experience.

Mayor Fiaz has worked for the European Commission and the Council of Europe, has been the executive director of a national charity and was the CEO of an international UNESCO supported charity promoting interfaith and global citizenship across the world.

You would be hard pushed to find any currently elected official in Tower Hamlets with similar depth and breadth of experience.

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