At a virtual meeting of Tower Hamlets Cabinet last week Mayor John Biggs mentioned that he had delegated his Directly-Elected Mayor powers to Cabinet and that from now on there would be ‘collective decision making in the Cabinet’.
To be clear. Without any public announcement or discussion Mayor Biggs has given away most of the power that makes a Directly-Elected Mayor so powerful and the role such a political prize.
At least someone was awake.
The only person to spot this was BBC Local Democracy Reporter Rachael Burford working for the East London Advertiser who got the story. Fortunately Moley likes Ms. Burford ‘cos he hates missing a scoop and so is not deeply envious and annoyed he dropped the investigative ball.
Not. Jealous. At. All.
Here is the video, you can see the original at 0.10.40 of the web cast (Cabinet – Wednesday, 28th October 2020) and below is a verbatim transcript of Mayor Biggs words:
“But actually on this meeting this is the first instance where we don’t quite do that as we now have collective decision making in the cabinet. I was going to say something in the next item which is Announcements so I [emphasis – first person] have changed the Order of Delegation in the council. I am just looking for it now [turns away from camera] it is a very long and boring legal document basically what it says is that in cabinet we will be making collective decisions rather than me listening to my cabinet members or heeding advice and making an individual decision as the executive mayor so that is a departure from what we have done in the past … it won’t be making a lot of difference to the conduct of business but it will mean that members will be making collective decisions rather than advising me, so on the minutes I think everyone indicated that they are happy with them… so I am happy to agree the minutes of the last meeting.”
Not exactly the clearest of announcements, is it? We have emphasised two things. Firstly the Mayor clearly says that he has changed the Order of Delegation. Not ‘we’, ‘I’. Which sort of implies that nobody else was in the loop.
Second thing is that when he looks for a copy of the Order of Delegation he can’t seem to find it, almost like his body language reflects his attempt to downplay its importance.
Moley did not realise the full importance of the Mayor’s words because they came at the start of the Cabinet meeting with no prior warning and were immediately eclipsed by an extraordinary public condemnation by the Mayor of one of his own colleagues, Cllr. Puru Miah (Labour, Mile End).
Cllr. Puru just happens to be opposing the Directly-Elected Mayor system and working with opposition councillors to rid Tower Hamlets of this curse.
Unfortunately for Mayor Biggs neither he or his Chief Whip Cllr. Kevin Brady are as clever as they think they are. As a result Cllr. Puru has reported both of them to the Metropolitan Police. Oops.
Let us put the Mayor’s mumbled announcement into context.
Let’s all move to Newham! Yay!
Rokhsana Fiaz is the Directly-Elected Mayor of Newham. The Directly-Elected Model has been in place there since 2002.
A key pledge of her campaign to become Directly-Elected Mayor of Newham was to hold a referendum on the issue and within six months of being elected had given up most of her executive powers just as Mayor Biggs has now done.
This is what Mayor Fiaz said when she delegated her powers to her Cabinet members.
“This represents the most fundamental change to the elected mayoral model since its introduction [in Newham] way back in 2002. This scheme of delegation essentially moves all the decision-making that is held by one person, me, to the entire cabinet, which includes six members. It is all part of the process of bringing good governance, better decision-making and transparency to the way in which we do business.” Source: Evening Standard 17 October 2018.
So Mayor Fiaz campaigns on the promise of holding a referendum to ditch the Directly-Elected Mayor model in Newham and when she starts to deliver on that promised by delegating her power makes a very clear statement to the Standard.
In contrast Mayor Biggs mumbles something about a very long and boring legal document (aka the Executive Scheme of Delegation)
Some of his own Labour councillors were unaware of the delegation of powers even after the Cabinet meeting (we know ‘cos we spoke to them) and the Mayor only bothered to inform all Tower Hamlets councillors in an internal mail sent on 30th October.
Extraordinary even by the standards of Tower Hamlets politics.
(If the venerable @TedJeory should wish to share his expert opinion on this subject he is more than welcome to do so.)
Backdated to 3 June 2020. Why?
Here is the document sent to councillors. There is no date on it but if you look at Section 3, ‘The Mayor’s Executive Scheme of Delegation’ it says ‘With effect from 3 June 2020’. What does that mean? Mole has no idea whatsoever.
The issue of ‘should we ditch the Directly-Elected Mayor and if so what should we replace it with?’ will run for months and will only get more complex as times goes on so here is a basic timeline of events which Mole will keep updating for you. A very kind Mole isn’t he?
What has happened in the last couple of weeks is that on 19 October Moley exposed (and accidentally derailed ‘cos it was secret) the Mayor’s ‘Special Measures’ plan which lead to the Mayor getting one of his minions to post this e-petition backing the ‘Leader & Cabinet’ model of governance on the LBTH site on 21 October, very closely followed by Labour councillor Puru Miah and Opposition councillors posting a competing e-petition backing the Committee approach on 24 October on change.org then on 26 October the Mayor mentions almost as an afterthought that he has delegated his hard won Directly-Elected Mayor powers to his Cabinet just minutes before [LINK] he publicly rebukes Cllr. Puru Miah for something which has nothing to do with the future of the Directly-Elected Mayor model in Tower Hamlets.
Choices, choices, choices
Keeping up at the back? Good because there will be a test afterwards.
This sequence of events has been triggered by the Mayor’s dawning realisation that his grip on power is slipping away. Lutfur never let that happen. Until the legal thing, natch.
Because of the completely inept manner in which the borough has been mismanaged by himself and what can only loosely be called an administration residents and businesses are kicking off all over the place.
“It just is not working.”
The first thing that Biggs & Crew did wrong was the first thing they did when elected again – voted themselves a nice fat increase in Special Responsibility Allowances. This might have made some councillors happy but it annoyed the hell out of everyone else. Then there have been cuts to essential services always blamed on the government of course and the continued mismanagement of the Youth Service and then the Poplar Papers where it was revealed that the only person to ever actually get to properly investigate council corruption was forced out of his job. Strange that, innit? And how much money did that cost the council to fight? A lot. Then the Liveable Streets plans started to be implemented which annoyed even more people then the pandemic hit and the council promptly alienated all the market traders before pushing Brick Lane restaurants to the brink of bankruptcy and let’s not forget the council consultations that are nothing of the sort like Raines oh and the continued failure to undertake Serious Case Reviews into the three Bethnal Green Academy girls who fled to Syria to join ISIL and the Band 3 housing waiting list fiasco and decision to blow £1.3m on Raines House in Wapping just for the fun of it and the latest cuts to Adult Social Services day centres and the strange way Mayor Biggs looked after some Youth Workers who had got up to all sorts and… the list goes on. And on. And on.
As one Labour councillor remarked last week “It just is not working.” Well spotted.
On top of residents having the temerity to call out Labour councillors who treated them like some doggy doo doo they have trodden in, the local and Mayoral elections will happen in May 2021 and someone really, really, really wants to be Mayor.
Mayor Biggs is rather keen to be Mayor again too before he ‘retires’ to Poplar HARCA but he has realised that quite a lot of his own councillors do not share his enthusiasm. Funny that. Indeed quite a few of them do not want a Directly-Elected Mayor of any sort.
This all led up to the Mayor’s ‘Special Measures’ scam which fell flat after some irresponsible online publication reveals it to a not particularly interested borough.
And ever since then things have been moving. In every direction.
Related Internet Links
- New era of ‘People Power’ in Newham to boost democracy and participation – Newham Council
- Campaigners hail petition milestone aimed at scrapping Newham mayor – Newham Recorder
- My plan for Newham, Pledges – Rokhsana Fiaz
- First elected female mayor in London Rokhsana Fiaz gives up most of her executive powers – Standard