Elected Mayors – let the Battle Begin

I was very pleased to hear today that the Government will not be proceeding with the ludicrous idea to convert city leaders into Mayors and then hold a post-facto referendum in 12 cities.

This idea was undemocratic and unconstitutional. Even most of those people who believe in elected mayors did not like the way it would be introduced and there were many words within Whitehall about this.

Unusually I do not blame Eric Pickles for this although I usually think that it’s his fault. I don’t believe that any DCLG Minister is in favour of Mayors and certainly would not have included them in legislation unless there was strong support from further up the food chain!

Our position is quite clear and thoroughly localist. Liberal Democrats in all 12 cities will make their own mind up about whether or not Mayors are a good thing fro their city. If they believe that they are they will campaign for them – if not they will campaign against. It is therefore possible that Liberal Democrats will be campaigning in different ways in different areas. That is no problem – that is what localism means. Politicians looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for their area and responding accordingly.

However, I have yet to hear from a Liberal Democrat in local government who is in favour. I strongly expect therefore that in all areas we will campaign for a no vote. I also strongly suspect that we will campaign in those areas with our Labour and Tory colleagues who are equally unenamoured. I will also predict that in no more than 2 council areas will there be a majority for a change to an elected Mayor.

Why am I implacably opposed to elected mayors?

  1. There is no track record for the mayoral system working. Of course there have been some good Mayors our own Dorothy Thornhill being one without doubt. Of course things have improved well within Mayoral areas BUT they have not improved any better than the rest of local government
  2. Where they haven’t worked they have been dreadful. Need I say more than repeating the names Stoke and Doncaster. These two councils at one time were more than 20% of the then mayoral authorities but 100% of the councils that were effectively being given the red card
  3. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Concentrating power in one pair of hands can so easily lead to a lack of inclusion to a failure to listen to all opinions and to take a cooperative view of the way forward.
  4. This is a man thing. Mayoral politics appeals most to testosterone charged men who believe in the heroic leadership model. Women have only been elected in 2 out of 13 authorities.
  5. There will be a massive confusion given the new LEPs, city region and other cooperative forms of council working together. How would a mayor of Liverpool be seen by the public and partners as first amongst equals in our city region?

But I don’t mind a fight. Other things within the Decentralisation and Localism Bill will give us all the need to think through and then change our way of doing this in terms of governance. I hope that every council will have an open mind to its forms of governance and will use the debates round devolution and empowerment to refine their structures to be more inclusive not only of the public but of all councillors within the authority.

Vote “No” to Mayors – You Know It Makes Sense!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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