Should we have more directly-elected Mayors?

Another in my mini-series (see here and here) of snippets from the Communities in Control White Paper that haven’t had the attention and debate that perhaps they should have had. This time, directly-elected Mayors:

We want to make it easier for people to demand that their local leaders move to establishing a directly-elected mayor through a referendum, so:
• we will consult on permitting on-line petitioning as well as traditional paper petitions to demonstrate support for a referendum
• we will consult on reducing the threshold for a petition to trigger a mayoral referendum from 5 per cent of voters – perhaps to 2, 3 or 4 per cent
• we will remove the stipulation that no referendum may be held for 10 years if a referendum is lost and instead move to a system where a new referendum may be held after four years in these circumstances

We will make the move to a directly-elected mayoralty more attractive to local politicians with an expectation that directly-elected mayors, where they exist, would chair the Local Strategic Partnership and, be the new Crime and Policing representative, as announced by the Prime Minister in the draft legislative programe for 2008-09. [p.94]

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  • I do see both benifits and drawbacks in directly elected mayors. However looking at the white paper summary above, I can’t see this changing the landscape of local councils very much.

    The are almost no local movements to get an elected mayor, so it will be the usual politicians that would launch a petition.

    Given the fact many first time mayors were not the then rulling parties candidate. How many politicians want to vote to remove their own power (limited as it is) and give it to an executive mayor?

  • Adrian Sanders 9th Nov '08 - 3:50pm

    If you believe in local democracy the answer to the question has to be no.

    While Labour (and the Tories) want to take powers away from Councillors and give them to mayors, we should be campaigning for powers to be taken away from quangos and given to Councillors.

    The experience in my area of elected Mayors can be viewed here:

    The website is not run by anyone connected to the Lib Dems.

  • No.

  • Alex Feakes 9th Nov '08 - 7:07pm

    The current system of elected mayors is a disaster for accountable local government (though I think Dorothy has made the best of a bad job), and we shouldn’t be supporting it.

    James is half right – we should be letting people have more say over more things locally. But we should also ensure that the systems available are better balanced between the executive and scrutiny than at present.

  • Rabi Martins 9th Nov '08 - 7:08pm

    A while back i commented on this very question in First Magazine

    My view is that Elected Mayors may be good for those elected as Mayors but significantly reduces the role and influence of the majority of councillors

    If the white paper balanced the powers of elected mayors by incresed powers for Scrutiny Committees and Full council then perhaps we might get a system that delivers better all round local governance

  • Tony Greaves 9th Nov '08 - 7:13pm

    Definitely not – as we have argued in Parliament.

    Tony Greaves

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Nov '08 - 9:24pm

    If people want Bloggs to be a directly elected Mayor, they don’t need a referendum. All Bloggs has to do is stand enough candidates for councillor who have the manifesto:

    “We will always vote as Bloggs tells us. We will not question it, or think for ourselves, Bloggs is always right, we want him to be the undisputed leader of this council. In fact, we will just abolish as much voting as we can and simply have one vote ‘We delegate all policy decisions to Our Great Leader Bloggs'”

  • Clegg's Ardent Admirer 10th Nov '08 - 12:23pm

    I agree with all the hostility to directly eleted mayors for all the good liberal reasons given however…..

    Doesn’t anyone think London has changed things ? Is any serious party suggesting abolishing the London Mayorality? From where i’m sitting (outside London) it seems to have improved stragic direction and given civic focus.

    I suggest this issue won’t be settled till a few big regional cities try the experiment and it fails/suceeeds.

    finally bear in mind that the only people who defend councilors are a van guard of local democracy are councillors them selves. And i have been one. You can have centralism and secrecy under the curent system as much as a DEM.

  • Hywel Morgan 10th Nov '08 - 12:27pm

    “The current system of elected mayors is a disaster for accountable local government (though I think Dorothy has made the best of a bad job), and we shouldn’t be supporting it.”

    Dorothy campaigned against the introduction of an elected mayor, ran on a platform of campaigning for its abolition at the first opportunity. And then decided she thought they were a good idea and should be kept.

    If elected Mayors are so good, why not an elected President?

  • Directly elected mayors run against the tradition of parliamentary politics. If we want to bring in a voting system which allows more voices to be heard in council and parliament chambers, it seems absurd to support an institution which then concentrates power and attention on one viewpoint.

    London needed a unifying government for the whole city and could (and should) have acheived this with a parliamentary-style assembly, not a DEM. If the GLA has sufficient powers to make it worth talking about, people will pay attention to its leader(s). Scotland doesn’t have a directly-elected leader and yet Alex Salmond seems to have no difficulty getting his agenda across.

    In terms of local government, I think we also need to look at some of the boundaries and communities involved. Many of our local councils have boundaries drawn up more for the convenience of Whitehall than local residents and either combine or divide people in entirely inappropriate ways, In many cases, local councils could be made more relevant and effective if boundaries were realligned to better reflect the allegiances and lifestyles people have today. A town like Reading, for example, should be in the same local authority as its suburbs; Elsewhere, people who live out in the countryside are informed they live in the City of York or the City of Leeds so that someone behind a desk can say they’ve produced an authority of a given size or the right demographic balance.

    What should matter is people.

  • Yes, let’s have another layer of local government that the vast majority can refuse to give a stuff about.

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