For many years I lived bordering two of the boroughs that first elected executive mayors.
In Middlesbrough it was an independent, Ray Mallon aka 'Robocop' or sometimes 'red braces', who won. Mallon had become a highly controversial figure, and a hero to some, in the everlasting scandals within the local police force.
Across the Tees in Hartlepool, to everyone's complete surprise, local MP Peter Mandelson's fury, and international hilarity, it was another independent, Stuart Drummond, who narrowly defeated the 'safe' labour candidate. Drummond had campaigned in the persona of the Hartlepool United mascot, 'H'angus the Monkey, on a platform promising free bananas to local school children.
|The day before the election - Mandelson and Drummond cosy up for the photographers.||It was a brief romance!|
Both elections were run under the first-past-the-post system. Mallon probably won on charisma and populist policy; for Drummond it was more likely a freak brought about by contempt for the tribalistic mainstream party political system. Bristol councillors be warned.
But ten years later, both mayors are still there. They've both been re-elected twice. Neither has turned their town around (ignore the hype, mayors don't do that). But neither have they made any spectacular mistakes. Whilst Mallon always had close links with Labour, Drummond's strength does seem to lie in his independence, and his majority has increased dramatically. But while we're voting for our first Bristol mayor, Hartlepudlians will be holding a referendum on whether they want to revert to a 'council committee' structure.
If a rank outsider, a joke candidate, like Stuart Drummond could be elected in Hartlepool, and then repeat the victory twice as a 'sitting' mayor, all under the first-past-the-post system, is is possible that a much more serious outsider in Bristol could do the same under the more favourable Supplementary Vote system? Of course – but only if voters have the confidence and understanding to use their votes carefully.
This time, THERE IS NOTHING TO BE LOST BY GIVING THE FIRST PREFERENCE VOTE TO YOUR FIRST PREFERENCE, no matter what the hype – or the Post, or the bookies - might say about their prospects. With a big field and three 'favourites', it's very probable that no-one will get over 50% of those first preference votes, so all but the top two candidates will be eliminated. The 'losers' second preference votes will become the decider; the top two get their votes topped up by second preference votes from the others, and the new total decides the winner.
So - unless there's a 'H'angus moment (which, of course, there could be - imagine the MPs' faces!) it's the second preference that counts. For once, at least with the first vote, there's no need to second guess the way other voters will behave. It should be what it says - a real first preference.