DONCASTER will remain the only place in Yorkshire with a directly-elected mayor after voters in four of the region’s largest cities threw out coalition proposals for a massive shake-up of local government.
Despite a concerted push from the Government over recent weeks led personally by David Cameron, nine English cities including Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Wakefield all returned “No” votes in referendums asking whether traditional council leaders should be replaced with London-style elected mayors.
The Yorkshire picture was replicated in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Coventry, with only Bristol bucking the national trend to vote in favour of the measure.
The results are a major embarrassment for the Government, which now faces criticism that it failed to define the powers which would have been available to the new mayors or to sell the idea convincingly to the electorate.
Sheffield Labour MP Clive Betts, who chairs Parliament’s local government committee, said the overwhelming result meant the policy must now be put to bed for good.
“The Tories say they are for localism, but this was a top-down policy created in Whitehall,” he said. “There was just no basis for it. There was no enthusiasm and very little understanding either.”
Mr Betts said that he and fellow “No” campaigners in Sheffield had been able to point to neighbouring Doncaster, which elected English Democrat Peter Davies to the position of elected mayor in 2008, as an example of what could happen under the system.
“I think as people came to look at this they realised that once you have elected someone for four years, there is no way of getting rid of them again,” Mr Betts said.
Nonetheless, the people of Doncaster voted firmly in favour of keeping the system in their own referendum on Thursday.
Mayor Davies did not attend yesterday’s count, having chosen to attend a Coldstream Guards event in Windsor the previous day, but speaking from a Doncaster-bound train last night he proclaimed himself “delighted”.
“Mayoral governance, both under my predecessor and myself has been better than what went before, with all the corruption and infighting,” he said.
“Given that other towns and cities across the country have rejected the idea in favour of a system which has been failing for 40 years, it gives Doncaster the chance to move forward and become one of the leading towns in Yorkshire and the country.”
Mayor Davies, 68, said he would stand again in next year’s election, but added he “didn’t see any point” in watching the count because “at that point, you can’t change the result”.
The Doncaster result represented a small ray of light for the Prime Minister, who threw his weight behind the drive for elected mayors and was optimistic at least four of the 10 cities would vote in favour.
Number 10 was looking gratefully towards Bristol last night as the only city to have voted in favour of his policy, so preventing the abject humiliation of a clean sweep for “No” campaigners.
Jaya Chakrabarti, a local businesswoman who ran the Mayor for Bristol campaign, said: “We are very proud to have bucked the national trend. We did this because we wanted the strong leaders of the city to step up and be able to lead the city in a stable environment that can take us to the next level.”
But elsewhere voters firmly rejected the idea, with low turnouts reflecting widespread apathy.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps defended the money spent on holding the referendums, saying: “People should have the right to decide how they are governed.
“The whole point is to give people a say. No-one is forcing mayors on anyone.”
Mayoral hopefuls such as Labour MP Liam Byrne, who had planned to resign from his Shadow Cabinet post to run as Mayor of Birmingham, blamed an “anti-politics” mood for outcome.
He said: “People just think – ‘you are asking me to take a leap of faith at a time when my faith in politics and especially my faith in David Cameron, is at a low ebb’.”
Jo Tanner. Director at Campaign for Directly-Elected Mayors, said she was disappointed with the results, but was hopeful this would not signal the end of the policy.
“People will now watch closely what happens in Bristol, Liverpool and Salford, and in the future may think – ‘we want some of that’.”
In Liverpool, which had opted to bring in a mayor without a referendum, the Labour council leader Joe Anderson was elected to the post with 59 per cent of the vote.
In Salford, which voted in favour of having a mayor back in January, Labour’s Ian Stewart won the day.