Ten cities (mostly in the North) are having elections on 3 May to decide on whether or not to have elected mayors. It has been covered in the media a bit but not in anywhere near enough detail. There has certainly not been much analysis I have seen about what powers elected mayors may receive, now or further down the line, nor how mayors will interact with the elected councils.
Whilst there cannot be a one-size fits all approach to local politics I am not sure that the way of elected mayors is the way to go.
The prominent opinion of the ‘yes campaign’ on Newsnight was that most of the public do not know who the leader of their council is: elected mayors would solve this. An elected mayor is likely to be more dynamic; a more prominent figure in public life that will be widely recognised by the public. But surely if this was the only problem, publicising who the leader of the council is, could also solve this problem? I think the actual problem is engagement with local politics and the democratic processes. I do not think a mayor with or without a corresponding ‘cult of personality’ will solve this, not on any meaningful level. It could also further muddle public thinking of knowing what exactly the elected mayor is responsible and accountable for and what is in the council’s remit.
On the other hand perhaps if there was an elected mayor who could challenge the elected council, that might encourage the council to listen to its residents more. However it might also create problems such as in Doncaster which saw the elected mayor overturn Doncaster council’s decision to reopen two libraries. It depends on the person and the extent of their powers.
There is an idea that the government are using this to further distance themselves from accountability. Does anyone know what the level of interaction and power would be between local/national government and the elected mayor? Furthermore *Liverpool used its powers to skip the referendum stage altogether and opt for an elected mayor.
There are confused reasons as to why mayors would be good but one vocal opinion is that it seeks to address lack of awareness or engagement in local politics. A much simpler and straightforward way would be to increase political involvement through the education system. It is only in the last couple of years that I have found out what a Scrutiny Committee is, that you can attend Council meetings, that you can speak for 3 minutes at the beginning, that you can present petitions to the council, how to respond to consultations and so on. (There are similar issues at national level that the Parliamentary Outreach Service does well to address to organisations that request a workshop). At school there is nothing that explains the very basics in these systems, how can you expect people to engage with and have a say in local politics and in the issue of an elected mayor when you give them little or no information as they are growing up. And then again little or no information about what an elected mayor would actually mean?
Turnout has been low – in January 18.1% voted in Salford to opt for an elected mayor. There have been complaints in Bristol over the Council’s failure to deliver leaflets explaining the referendum.
The resulting mayoral elections will be held on 15 November which is the same date as polling for 40 police commissioners, something else that has received little media coverage.
A recent Guardian/ICM poll says that 61% would prefer not to have a mayor and it will be interesting to see if this is reflected in Thursday’s vote and if cities opt for an elected mayor, how this will work in practice now and in the future.
Anyone got any views? Yay or nay?