Campaigners seeking to change Newham’s mayoral system of local government say they have secured the number of supporters required to force a local referendum on the issue and will present a petition of over 11,000 signatures to the council shortly.
In a press release, organisers of what they call the Newham People’s Petition say they have already gathered the support of 11,100 Newham residents, which represents 5% of the borough’s registered voters and therefore reaches the threshold required by law for a referendum on the borough’s local government system to be held. They say they did not submitted to petition to the council immediately because they want to give other voters an opportunity to add their names to it first.
The petition was launched last October after Newham councillors voted unanimously to push back the date for a referendum the council itself says it will hold on the governance issue from 7 May 2020, which would have been the same day as the since-postponed London Mayor election, to a date between June 2020 and May 2021.
Since then, provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which received royal assent on 25 March this year, appear to effectively rule out any referendum being held before early May 2021.
Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz made a manifesto pledge that a referendum on the future of the mayoral system would be held when running for election in 2018. She had previously made this a cornerstone of her successful bid to become Labour’s mayoral candidate for the election instead of the previous incumbent, Sir Robin Wales, whom many Labour members believed had become too powerful and unaccountable in the position, which he had held since Newham adopted the mayoral system in 2002 following a referendum vote in favour of it.
The delay was related to the deliberations of a Democracy and Civic Participation Commission set up by Fiaz to look at the options for Newham’s future governance before the referendum went ahead. The report of the commission, published in July, found that the directly-elected Mayor model is the best one for Newham while recommending improved mechanisms for preventing power becoming too concentrated in the hands of the Mayor.
Last month, the council told the Newham Recorder that the commission’s findings were being carefully considered and Fiaz said a “detailed response” to them would be brought to the council in the autumn, “following discussions with residents”. She had previously reiterated her commitment to a referendum being held.
In a press release announcing that the signature threshold has been reached, Newham People’s Petition campaigner Dhanniya Sugathan claimed, “We have met with queues of people willing to sign the petition” and that “residents are ready for change”. She advocates the “leader and cabinet model” as an alternative to the mayoral one, arguing that it is a “popular” and “democratic and accountable structure of governance”.
On London has approached the organisers of the petition for more information about their campaign, which appears to be connected with a company called Democracy Newham Limited, of which Sugathan is listed as director. Another person who has been associated with the petition is Tahir Mirza, who chairs East Ham Constituency Labour Party.
This article was updated at 15:35 on 18 September 2020 to include the reference to the Coronavirus Act 2020.
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