Interesting paper from Localis debating whether or not we should have more directly elected mayors. Although we often associate modern style of mayors in the UK (mainly London) as imports from the US, there is a relatively long history of mayors stretching as far back as the 12th Century in UK. London is offered as an example of the role succeeding. Is it? Boris Johnson is great but Ken Livingstone wasn't. The argument about the structure should transcend whether one likes the incumbent or not.
Boris is trying to give some more power to the boroughs and reduce spending. But there is a long way to go. City Hall remains a monument to waste and empire building. Boris will find it harder to cut spending than Ken Livingstone found to increase it. We were promised that an additional layer of Government would not amount to anything as costly as a GLC Mark Two – but that is pretty much what we have ended up with. There are two issues. Do we need London wide Government? If so should it take the form of a Mayor?
The issue is debated between Anthony Browne, an advocate of mayors and Director of Policy for the Mayor of London and Richard Kemp, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the LGA. The final article is by Steve Malanga offering a US perspective.
In his article, Richard Kemp challenges mayoral supporters to ‘show me the evidence’. He argues that if the current success rate of Mayors was applied across the Country it would be a disaster citing Stoke and Doncaster. He goes on to say that they do not improve turnout and that in fact Council Leaders
are frequently just as well known.
Anthony Browne’s article, there is a strong sense that mayors help to improve the profile of local government. In order to overcome the over-centralisation of government in the UK, it is vital that local government proves itself to be strong, and mayors can help to achieve this. In the case of London – the strong political leadership has allowed projects that would not have got off the ground to take off – such as Crossrail or the successful Olympics bid. Another thing that mayors can help to solve is the party political operators which dominate local Councils. Browne goes on to argue that the reason mayors are not more common now is because of the established political elite who are determined not to give up power. He offers Middlesbrough's Robocop Mayor Ray Mallon's success in reducing crime as a postive example.
In Malanga’s article there is a recognition that there are a number of different potential mayoral models, ranging from impartial City managers appointed by Council to directly elected mayors – many of which have emerged in the US. His main argument is that different cities have taken different approaches and that this should be welcomed. This chimes very closely with what Localis has argued – local people deciding local governance, and that one solution in one place is not necessarily the best solution in another. Political accountability need to be clear. This is a problem which pervades the whole political system – from Regional Development Agencies and central government to local government, and until we address this question changes to the model of governance are unlikely to have any significant impact.