Mayors: Labour strains in Nottingham over referendum

A fascinating insight into the Labour mindset in its Nottingham fortress has been revealed by the mayoral referendum debate.

Image caption Nottingham's voters must decide next Thursday whether a directly-elected mayor is right for the city

The current leadership has been urging the voters to reject having a directly-elected mayor for the city. But is holding that line and party discipline starting to show cracks?

The latest Labour stalwart to defy the leadership is a former Lord Mayor and Sheriff of Nottingham, Councillor Jeannie Packer.

She's resigned after describing the Labour group as "secretive and dictatorial". She's now urging voters to vote "yes" for an elected mayor.

Mick Newton, another ex-Labour figure, is leading the pro-mayor referendum campaign in Nottingham.

So what are we to make of the surprisingly candid remarks of the man once regarded as Nottingham's would-be Alastair Campbell?

Until recently, Stephen Barker was the city council's Director of Communications. He's now turned on his former political masters and wants a referendum "yes" for an elected mayor.

"We need the leader of the city to be tested at the ballot box," he told me.

"We must move on a Victorian system of having a leader chosen by just a few councillors from one political party in a secret meeting.

"Modern cities are run by mayors. The most ambitious cities are choosing to go for it.

"Nottingham has achieved much in recent years but it's not achieved as much as other cities, such as Leeds or Cardiff. It can't afford to fall further behind."

'An irrelevance'

That's rejected by a former leader of Nottingham City Council, who's now working for one of the city's biggest businesses.

John Taylor told me: "The idea of a directly-elected mayor for Nottingham is unwanted and unnecessary.

"Without increased powers and resources, we are being asked to vote for a pig in a poke."

He points to a series of significant infrastructure projects, such as the Nottingham tram and the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, to defend the status quo.

"Just look at those projects. They are the envy of many other cities. They've been achieved without the need for an elected mayor," added Mr Taylor.

The one area where they tend to agree is the issue of Nottingham's very tight city boundaries.

The population is 280,000, yet greater Nottingham is three times higher.

Stephen Barker believes the mayoral debate has highlighted the need for boundaries to be extended into the suburbs.

He fears policy makers will put the city into the lower division of city rankings, with implications for future funding.

"We are stuck with people who matter thinking that Nottingham is a city half the size it truly is," said Stephen Barker.

As for John Taylor: "Nottingham's biggest employer is Boots, yet that's outside the boundaries in the borough of Broxtowe. With the current city boundaries, an elected mayor is an irrelevance."

They also agree that this city demands bold and determined leadership.

Will a directly-elected mayor deliver that? That's what voters in Nottingham have to decide for themselves in Thursday's referendum.

See John Taylor and Stephen Barker put their case on Sunday Politics - BBC One East Midlands from 12:00 BST, and afterwards on iPlayer.