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Mick Temple’s Blog

NIGHTMAYOR IN STOKE

21-06-2008

Remember all that fuss about a mayor for Birmingham? Stoke already has one, but as Mick Temple reports there are plans afoot for change. Don’t worry though – he talks about beer and football too.

Okay – I want you to think ‘Stoke-on-Trent’. What comes into your head? I bet it’s not a positive image. If it’s sporting, it’s about the boring football City play. If it’s social, it’s about smoke and pot-banks and poverty. And if it’s politics, it’s irredeemably negative.

The politics of Stoke-on-Trent have been a major factor in the city’s poor image. BNP electoral successes and central government interventions to take away key services from council control, present an image of a racist city run by incompetents.

Central government is even forcing a change to Stoke’s unique governmental system - an elected mayor and council manager arrangement which gave extraordinary power to an unelected chief executive and rendered councillors politically impotent.

But once again, our city’s rulers have contrived to cock-up.

On BBC Midlands Today on Thursday I described the process of public consultation as a farce. Basically, the council is spending up to £120,000 to gauge public opinion on the alternatives – a directly elected mayor with cabinet or a council leader (selected by councillors) with cabinet. Great idea – it may be a lot of money but at least the public will have their say.

Oh dear – things can’t be that simple in Stoke.

If the councillors prefer an elected mayor, the people will be asked in a referendum whether they agree or not. If the people say ‘no, we don’t want an elected mayor, thank you very much’, the result will be – and you REALLY couldn’t make this up – that an elected mayor will still be introduced.

Yes – read it again, and the more times you read it the crazier it sounds. It makes Elias ‘Loony’ Crackpot, the mad professor of Applied Madness at Madchester University, seem positively sane. It makes the Irish referendum look like a sensible way to settle the future of Europe.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – this city deserves better. And there are plenty of positives here. From now on, I’m going to spend more time pushing the good things and less time highlighting the stupidities of Stoke’s elected political ‘elite’.

This week, I went on a guided tour of the Titanic Brewery in Burslem. It’s a genuine success story, a selection of local and distinctive real ales now available all over England and in three (soon to be four) local Titanic houses.

The tour was great, led by a head brewer who was knowledgeable and entertaining – and the plentiful supply of beer (I drank Titanic White Star) was lovely. All finished off with a buffet at the Bull’s Head in that under-heralded architectural gem in the heart of the Potteries, Burslem.

How fitting that a Stoke success story should be named after the world’s most famous maritime tragedy. Who knows, maybe one day someone will set up a successful business named after the last directly elected mayor of Stoke-on-Trent.

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