Saturday, 28 April 2012

Nottingham: Stop Being Mardy & Vote YES!

It’s actually pleasant these days to be able to describe my adopted city of Nottingham in a neutral tone.  Two popular expressions I always use is the “home of Robin Hood” and “near Alton Towers”.  It’s somewhat astonishing to think that a decade ago there were very different ways of describing this cosmopolitan, young and vibrant city.  “Shottingham” was a cruel yet truly accurate description of a place which had achieved national notoriety for being a “wild west” haven of criminals and in particular gun crime.

Looking back the warning signs had been here long before I had swapped the village people of Derby for its bigger brother of Nottingham in the Summer of 2002.  Indeed when I was still living in London it had already made national headlines for becoming the first UK city to allow the use of routine patrol officers to carry firearms.  Ten years ago this city was still reeling from the untimely murder of Brendon Lawrence, but more was to follow as Nottingham seemed intent on achieving a level of national notoriety which had almost mirrored my own arrival in Tottenham fifteen years earlier.  And once again fate would ensure that where I was living would soon be known by more than the people of Nottingham, and yet again for all the wrong reasons. 

My ex-fiancée lived in the suburb of Bulwell which in August 2003 was the scene of the murder of Marvyn Bradshaw, a senseless and pointless murder, not least because it was a tragic case of mistaken identity.  But if we were all sad at Marvyn and Brendon's needless departures, then nothing could have prepared us for the events of the following autumn when Danielle Beccan was shot dead on her way home from the Goose Fair.  This was a murder I was personally touched by due to my then fiancée’s connection to Danielle’s family from their days at school.  Another case of mistaken identity, but suddenly the problems of Nottingham were no longer a feature on the local news bulletins, the eyes of the nation and indeed the world had been firmly placed on this city. 

The journey this city has taken in relation to its problems a decade ago is nothing short of remarkable and I am always telling people in London that there are genuine lessons that they can learn from this town on the Trent.  But as someone who still spends a lot of time  in the capital, I am quick to point out that there is much more that can be done, and in particular there is an example set by the people of London in relation to its democratic landscape.  Because I’m afraid there is a level of accountability in Nottingham which is light years behind London and its something which this week we can begin to address.

When 18 year old Eliza Rebeiro appeared in the audience of ITV’s London Mayoral debate earlier this week terrorising the hapless Boris Johnson, it suddenly struck me that I don’t think any of my friends would be able to name me the leader of Nottingham city council.  Or for that matter the Lord Mayor.  Why does Nottingham not have a visible point of authority?  A democratically accountable figure elected by the people who the Eliza’s of Radford, Meadows, Bulwell & St Annes can look to for answers to the city’s problems?  Why don’t we have someone who can lobby for the needs of Nottingham on a national and international stage?

14 years ago London voted “Yes” in its mayoral referendum and while I have very little time for the bumbling buffoon currently holding the keys to City Hall, I struggle to see how the system has been anything other than a success for Londoners.  Every four years London has the chance to elect a representative to champion their interests to the world, to raise the profile of a city I will always hold a great deal of affection for.

Why shouldn’t the people of Nottingham have the same opportunity?  I’m a Labour voter- always will be.  I abstained once during the General Election of 2005 but purely on the basis that I vowed never to endorse again a party led by Tony Blair following the decision to engage in an illegal war.  However I am going to be defying the guidance of the Labour party in Nottingham who have been campaigning vigorously to ensure that the city rejects the possibility of an elected mayor in the forthcoming referendum.  I also feel it’s a disgrace that my council tax has paid for advertising (or propaganda, depending on your viewpoint) to support a “No” vote.  If the Labour party in Nottingham is against the possibility of a directly elected mayor for the people of this great city, then that is their choice.  But it is completely unacceptable that public money is abused in this way. 

Nottingham is one of a tiny minority of local authorities in the UK which have increased council tax this year, something which I fully supported because it meant that jobs in the public sector in this city were protected against the savage agenda of cuts orchestrated by this sham of a government. I have no problem paying an extra £3 a month if it means that public sector jobs are saved.

But any money leftover should have been invested back into the city, and absolutely should not have been used in this appalling way.  I cannot hide my fury that the local authority have behaved like this and one of the first things I would like to see an elected mayor for Nottingham do would be to set up an investigation into this scandalous manipulation, to ensure that this can never be allowed to happen again.  Can you imagine the furore in London if Boris or his predecessor Ken had been caught using portion’s of the mayor budget to pay for their own campaigns?  Heads would be rolling!

I deserve better.  The people of Nottingham deserve better.  We need a visible electable figure of authority who can spread the wonderful news that Nottingham has evolved immensely since the days of a decade ago, who can drive investment and increase tourism to the city.  There is so much more to Nottingham than students and a vibrant nightlife popular for hen nights and stag do’s.  I am always telling people in London about how we have a main road called Maid Marian Way and that the city is proud of its historical connections to the legend of Robin Hood, but where is the focus to drive this?  Where are the tourist attractions?  This is something which needs addressing but some will say that this is why we have a council.  I disagree.  The council is here to manage the internal infrastructure, the local amenities, the schools, the public services this city relies upon.  An elected mayor of Nottingham will ensure that we have somebody who can fight our corner internationally. 

Nottingham has many reasons to be proud but we as a city need this.  On Thursday 3rd May Nottingham must vote YES to a directly electable mayor.