Swindon Martial arts Celebrity Matt Fiddes has confirmed he wants to become Britain's toughest and youngest mayor if elections in his home town go ahead.
The Martial Arts Multi-Millionaire is backing moves for a referendum in Swindon on whether an elected mayor should run local services instead of the council.
If the job comes up black belt Matt says he'll consider standing under a no-nonsense manifesto which includes:
*FIGHTING crime and anti-social behaviour
*KICKING OUT bullying in school and the workplace.
*CHOPPING council bureaucracy.
Swindon born Matt, 29, who runs a successful nationwide chain of martial arts academies, was suggested as a potential candidate by the Swindon Advertiser newspaper last week.
Pressure for a Town Hall shake-up has further increased with the launch of an online petition, demanding an elected mayor, by the internet forum TalkSwindon. And a internet facebook group set up called “ Matt for Mayor” which has received tremendous support from the Public to put Matt Fiddes in control of the towns position.
Under the Local Government Act 2000, 7608 signatures are needed – 5% of the town's 152,125 population – to force Swindon Council into holding a referundum.
Matt, a former bodyguard of Michael Jackson and a sought after celebrity trainer who’s celebrity clients have included Peter Andre, Model Danielle Lloyd and members of the Jackson 5 , said: 'I'm not a politician but running for mayor is certainly something I'd consider.
'In principle I think it's a great idea because a mayor is directly accountable to the electorate. There seems to be less party politics involved.
'If the job involved creating a positive image for Swindon, leading by example, tackling crime and helping young people be the best they can be, then it sounds like my kind of challenge. I will would give it my full support and have been very honoured to have been considered as a future Mayor by the people of Swindon'
Speaking from his business headquarters in Barnstaple, North Devon, Matt said to be worth £30, Million, does not wish to take a mayoral salary – preferring to return the money to council tax payers.
“If Matt Fiddes becomes Mayor it will put Swindon on the map. He is a talented charismatic entrepreneur who could put the role to good use. I am 100% behind him all the way” Said Devon Deputy Mayor Mr Ian Roome,
Matt added: 'My only concern is that I wouldn't want to take on such an important job part-time. With my martial arts schools continuing to grow I need to focus fully on delivering that service.
'It's great that people think I'd do a good job and I'd certainly love to tackle issues such as street crime, bullying in school and council efficiency.
'However, the office of elected mayor hasn't even been created yet. But I hope it is soon. For now I'm just going to investigate the possibilities and canvass the opinions of people I respect.'
Mayor for Swindon – town needs strong, decisive and visionary leadership
North Swindon MP Michael Wills explains why he supports SwindonLink’s campaign with www.talkswindon.org to give Swindon’s citizens a referendum to elect their own leader, which they were denied in 2001.
Every month, I receive hundreds of letters about Swindon Borough Council. People care about how this town is run and now a petition is under way to change it.
It’s not about which party or which people should run it but about the system. The petition is for Swindon to have an elected mayor, someone directly elected by the voters of Swindon, who would appoint cabinet members in the council and allocate portfolios and soon will be able to chair the Local Strategic Partnership and be the new Crime and Policing Representative.
Swindon’s honorary mayors, from all parties, have always been exemplary servants of the town and we all have reason to be grateful to them, but I believe the case for a directly elected mayor is now compelling.
The fact that they are directly elected by voters gives them a capacity for strong and decisive leadership which is often lacking from the current system. In the eleven years I have been the MP for North Swindon, I have watched how council leaders from all parties have been hamstrung by their lack of an independent mandate from voters and the need constantly to protect their backs from their colleagues.
I stress that this has affected all administrations, as every time I say something that could be construed, however remotely, as a criticism of the council, I am abused for partisanship.
A major national survey of councillors, council officers and stakeholders has shown significant majorities among these people at the frontline of local government for the effectiveness of a system with an elected mayor over alternative systems.
Swindon is now entering a crucial stage in its history. We are poised to benefit tremendously from growth and our exposure to the global economy but if we don’t get it right, we could suffer. This is a time for strong, decisive and visionary leadership and an elected mayor could help produce it.
As importantly, elected mayors can help improve the way local government is regarded by residents. Over and over again, constituents come to me because they do not know where else to go for help in dealing with the council. I have no power over the council so all I can do is ask for help on their behalf and take on the burden of the dialogue.
The evidence shows that directly elected mayors are more visible than councillors and give residents a greater sense that there is someone accountable for what happens in local government. This new system can improve the performance of a local authority in areas which matter to residents and increase the democratic legitimacy of local government.
Finally, I believe it is always desirable that power should be diffused as widely as possible. A directly elected mayor – directly accountable to voters – would always be a valuable counterweight to the council, whichever party is in power at the time, and act as a check and balance to the sort of arbitrary decisions which I have seen deeply upset residents.
If readers want to sign the petition, and, for the avoidance of doubt, I should underline the fact that this is being run by residents and I have had nothing to do with organising it, they can do so at: www.talkswindon.org/petition
11 July: Let the people decide says Tory leader
Even though David Cameron wants to see a police commissioner elected by the people in every police authority, he isn't sure whether places the size of Swindon should have an elected mayor.
At a one hour question and answer session at Greendown School on 11 July, when asked, following the success of Boris Johnson in London, whether he supported the idea of elected mayors, he said big cities like Manchester and Newcastle should have them. "Elected mayors have shown that community involvement and participation in local politics rise. Look at Ray Mallon in Middlesborough (pictured in next story below) who has done great things.
"But an elected mayor might not be appropriate in town's like Swindon. The point is that no one system should be enforced upon an area and they are certainly not appropriate for rural areas.
"But in the end it's up to the people of a town to decide."
Read the report on his visit at: www.swindonlink.com/news/tory-leader-spreads-the-word-in-swindon
A Mayor for Swindon?
Agenda Item 59 and How You Were Robbed
Geoff Reid of www.talkswindon.org has looked at the murky recent history of the way Swindon is run.
You probably won’t remember, but if you were an adult and living in Swindon on Thursday 27 September 2001, you were quietly denied a democratic right.
Whilst Swindon enjoyed a warm and balmy evening, a political bonfire was raging in the council chamber in Euclid Street which saw a Conservative Party motion of no confidence being passed on the Labour Group in control of the council under the leadership of Sue Bates.
The Labour cabinet resigned on the spot and the meeting was adjourned for 15 minutes while toys were placed back in prams and spat dummies collected.
The council reconvened and continued working through the huge agenda: bus lanes, garden composting, fire authority precepts, foot and mouth, Swindon Town Football club and minimum voting ages were all discussed and voted on. It’s perhaps understandable that the councillors minds were on the abrupt change in political power that had just occurred.
By the time they reached agenda item 59 late in the evening, they wanted to be away from the chamber to discuss, mourn and celebrate the evening’s events, which is how you came to be robbed.
Item 59 sounds fairly boring: ‘Council Constitution – Recommendations of the Review Panel on Consultation on New Political Structures.’
In fact it should have spurred an in-depth debate on how the council power structure should be arranged, and how you, the voter, would be given the chance to exercise your vote in a local referendum to choose between electing a Mayor to lead the council or continue allowing the largest political group of councillors to pick one for you.
Consultations had been conducted during the summer months and a long report written, all of which showed a majority of respondents in favour of the public electing a Mayor.
But, a couple of spanners were thrown into the democratic works. The report which had been sent to the review panel quoted all the consultation data correctly, but the summary of the report did not.
The summary included a bold statement that 71 per cent of stakeholder attendees had been in favour of an appointed leader. This sounds impressive until you learn that the conference where this conclusion was reached was held a year before the public consultation actually started in 2001 and was attended by less than 40 people. So 71 per cent would be the views of only 28 people.
In stark contrast, the 2001 public consultation saw over 7,000 people responding to an anonymous letter box survey sent out by the council, and some 1,300 responses to a more in-depth ‘Swindon Peoples Voice’ survey. The in-depth survey clearly showed 56% of respondents in favour of electing their own Mayor.
Yet despite the mass of evidence to the contrary, the summary of the report proclaimed there was ‘little support’ in the Borough for an elected Mayor.
Above, the recently elected Mayor London Boris Johnson, visiting Swindon in 2007
The review panel comprised the leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups in control and three non-elected, supposedly independent panel members from the education, commerce and community sectors. It’s likely that the summary and recommendation was the only part of the report that the review panel actually read and it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the summary said exactly what each of the three political leaders wanted it to say. To them it was a gift horse, so why go poking about in its mouth?
Councillor Bates was already distracted by both her failing council and a stalking opposition leader. Coun Mike Bawden was plotting how to get Bates out of the leaders chair and himself into it. For his part Coun Mike Evemy just wanted a share of the power by getting a couple of Lib Dem bums into cabinet seats, and almost got them one week later when his ‘cabinet sharing’ amendment looked briefly hopeful.
The three leaders had motive, they had the means and the carefully arranged Conservative/Lib Dem motion of no confidence and the ensuing furore provided the opportunity for one to take control of the council and the leaders seat, for two of them to see the third and her tribe deposed.
So, on the night of the 27 September 2001, the (largely ceremonial) Mayor of the time, turned to agenda item 59 moved by Councillor Sue Bates and seconded by Councillor Derek Benfield:
“That Swindon Council should, in accordance with the Local Government Act 2000, adopt a new Constitution based on the Leader and Cabinet Model and that the report, together with its attached submission report and the interim Constitution documents, be sent to the Secretary of State for his consideration.”
In a matter of seconds, with no debate and no questions asked, the motion was put to the vote, declared carried and you were quietly robbed.
I doubt many councillors realised they were accomplices in a democratic mugging, the review panel report states within itself that other councillors were not consulted on its contents. We can safely assume that they would have been so caught up in the drama of the nights events that they wouldn’t pay too much attention to almost the last, and seemingly unimportant, agenda item on the night.
Only The Link Magazine noticed and reported the robbery at the time, other media focussed only on the mass resignation and walk out of Labour councillors. Once again it is The Link Magazine and its readers paying attention to the detail that reveals the devil within. (See the story from November 2001 at the bottom of the page).
Your vote is for life, not just for elections and a vote denied will eventually return stronger and more determined to be exercised.
It is entirely appropriate that the elected mayor discussion be dusted off and thoroughly aired again. Last time it was hurriedly and unfairly bundled away underneath the stairs at the civic offices, this time around it deserves a properly open and fair debate.
The Local Government Act 2000 states that if 5 per cent of the electoral row sign a petition calling for a local referendum on whether a local authority should have an elected mayor, (around 7,500 voters) the council must arrange one to give citizens the chance to choose between electing a Mayor directly, or continue allowing councillors to appoint a leader for them through the present leader and cabinet system.
Whichever we individually prefer, it is in all of our interests to discuss both the democratic options available to us today, and those denied to us in 2001. So I hope all of you that have read this will review the elected Mayor debate taking place at www.talkswindon.org
A survey of viewpoints is available at: www.talkswindon.org/index.php?board=152.0
There is also an online petition should you feel prepared to sign it at: www.talkswindon.org/petition
Above, Ray ‘Robocop’ Mallon, Mayor of Middlesborough
Should Swindon have an elected mayor?
28/05/2008 – From the June 2008 Link magazine
Swindonians are not able to choose the person who runs the town because Swindon Council’s affairs are in the hands of a collection of councillors from one party which controls the seats around the cabinet table, jockeying for position and pulling the strings of power.
In April the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report looking at the success of elected mayors since they were introduced eight years ago, suggesting that Central Government force local councils to put the idea before the electorate.
Yet we’ve been here before. The June 2001 Link magazine was the only local media that highlighted the idea. But the then Labour controlled council’s consultation on having elected mayors, as required by government, was half hearted and distinctly biased. The exercise was shrouded in secrecy and was designed to preserve the status quo. Read our analysis of the consultation from November 2001 below.
However the experience in the 13 towns which have opted for an elected mayor has been positive, even though the media latched onto ‘Robocop’ Ray Mallon in Middlesborough, and H'angus the local football club mascot who got himself elected in Hartlepool, below. The IPPR says that providing a name and a face to the actions of a council has provided more accountability to local leadership.
There is also evidence that elected mayors have overseen important improvements in council performance.
In 2001 Martha Parry of the New Mechanics’ Trust told The Link that, having grown up in Cleveland, USA, she supported the idea of an elected mayor. She would still like a referendum on the matter. “At present you vote in each ward for a councillor and the party with the most form the cabinet. People become more engaged in civic affairs if there is a named person elected to take responsibility for council matters, somebody who has to stand or fall on their record of serving the whole community.
“You have to wonder why Swindon has remained a two star council for the last three years, one of 17 local authorities stuck at that level.”
North Swindon MP Michael Wills said he’s keen for Swindon Council to again look at having an elected mayor and considers a referendum. “The IPPR report spells out that elected mayors could help give a stronger personality to politics in the town and offer more authority and accountability to the council.”
Under legislation 5 per cent of the population is needed to force a referendum on the question.
•What do you think of the idea of an elected mayor? Read the discussion going on at www.talkswindon.org > scroll down to the survey section and read the history about this issue and fill in the survey.
From Swindon Link November 2001
Swindon to continue shambolic cabinet system, after 56% of citizens panel support directly elected mayor
As the business of the Swindon Borough Council degenerated into chaos on 27 September (2001) after the controlling Labour group resigned following a vote of no confidence, the irony of a decision taken at the very same meeting escaped notice when councillors voted to continue with the leader and cabinet system of local government.
Most people won’t have noticed a consultation exercise by Swindon Council asking for views on three options put forward by central government on how the council should be run:
1. the present leader/cabinet arrangement;
2. an elected mayor with a cabinet;
3. a mayor plus council manager.
Swindon Council did more than many other authorities by circulating every household with a leaflet asking for comment, but without a public awareness campaign for an arcane subject like local government adminstration, response was always likely to be low.
The report presented to councillors on the outcome of the consultation positively asserts that there is clear support for retention of the existing system. But how clear is this? The details in the report muddies the water.
First, response was perhaps too low to justify such a positive conclusion. Only 9% responded to the household survey and a conference of interested ‘stakeholders,’ a main indicator of support, was attended by under 40 people.
Secondly, a common theme in different consultation forums was a lack of knowledge about the existing system and uncertainty about the options.
Thirdly, the rules were skewed, not by the council, but unintentionally or otherwise by the government, as the vote by those wanting a directly elected mayor was split between two options.
Thus, the Swindon People’s Voice ‘citizens panel’, heavily relied upon in the report’s conclusions, sought the views of 2,640 local residents. Just over 50% replied, the best response of any of the processes used. The leader/cabinet system won most support at 44%.
But if the votes in favour of both systems involving a directly elected mayor are combined, the picture is different, with 56% wanting a change from the cabinet system.
Swindon resident Martha Parry is planning to challenge the proposal by the council to the government to continue with the leader cabinet system, if she can attract 6,000 signatures on a petition. “At present the leader of the council is the choice of a party political group. The benefit of directly electing a mayor is that all voters across the town choose the person who will have responsibility for leading the decision making. It would connect voters with how the town is run and could lead to less partisan behaviour by councillors.”