The last two months have seen a huge change in the respect people have for two of the North-West’s most well-known political leaders Mayors Anderson and Burnham.
City Mayors were, of course, an invention of Tony Blair and Regional Mayors the invention of David Cameron. It is interesting to see how old Labour characters like Anderson and Burnham have used it to try and create impregnable political strongholds due to the warped and twisted electoral mechanisms that we have. Burnham (and Rotheram) used it to escape from Westminster. Anderson used it to try and escape to Westminster.
Whatever their reasons the last few months have shown up just how weak the Mayoral system is. Both Cameron and Blair thought it was a good way of creating a strong governmental system to which the central government could devolve a range of powers. But the amount of devolution has been minimal and what we have clearly seen is that the mayoral model is wrong.
It has concentrated power in one pair of hands without building an effective scrutiny system to ensure that the strategies are both right and working. The scrutiny mechanisms lack the challenging ability of the Greater London Assembly whose members are themselves elected to the regional role and can be more challenging than the weak systems in City and City Region models. Cabinets have been formed of cronies and partisan policies have been followed which have become unassailable.
I won’t dwell on Joe Anderson because my role in Liverpool has forced into making a lot of comments already. Lib Dems have made clear that we will do everything in our power to abolish the elected mayor position. My personal pledge as the Lib Dem candidate is that within minutes, I will start the process of removing the mayoral system and that I will be the last Elected Mayor of Liverpool.
It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that for all his faults Joe Anderson did the right things in terms of the pandemic. He didn’t get everything right but his sense of direction and the set of actions that he proposed were the right ones. In fact, so good were they that we supported them! His actions saved lives and helped our City Region emerge from lockdown 2 into a Tier 2 system which kept our jobs in crucial sectors going in difficult times.
Burnham is a different kettle of fish not least because he should have been better. He came with the knowledge of central government and its ways. In theory that knowledge should have enabled him to work inside Whitehall to get more powers and money. It hasn’t worked like that. We recognise that Burnham’s role as Secretary of State for Health was not a good one. Labour had three massive and expensive reorganisations of the health service in 13 years. They also saddled the NHS with £billions of PFI debt which the NHS will need to carry and pay back for 20+ years.
In contrast to Mayor Anderson, Mayor Burnham has had a lousy pandemic. 3 months ago, when lockdown was being contemplated Burnham played the strongman and took the Government on. He should have realised that in the powerplay between central and sub regional government it is central government which has all the powers. Why should he have known that? Because all those powers used to be his.
He got absolutely nothing from it except what the Government gave to every other Tier 3 area. Burnham blustered for a crucial two weeks in a period when infection levels in the area were shooting up. The extra infections will, without a doubt, have led to extra deaths and long-term illnesses. In addition, businesses have suffered. Whilst Liverpool City Region City, town and district centres have resumed an air of normality that just hasn’t happened in Greater Manchester. More businesses will fold and more jobs lost because of this than if he had acted earlier.
We then found last week that for all the time of his Mayoralty he had failed to deal with quite obvious problems within the Greater Manchester Police Service. Andy Burnham is the politician in charge of the Police system in Greater Manchester as they have no Elected Police Commissioner (and that’s another post that needs abolishing!) The excuse went up that it is all because of Tory cuts. The GM force has had the same level of cuts as all the other forces in England. They haven’t been hauled over the coals in the way that the Manchester Force was last week. The fact must be that the politician in charge either as incapable of leading the system change required or was incapable of doing so.
The level might be different but in the long-term Lib Dems have the same policies for Mayors at both City and City Region levels – abolish them!!
At City level in Liverpool we will introduce the Committee system in which every Councillor takes part in decision making. This means much more scrutiny and involvement which in turn leads to more involvement of local people with all their skills and knowledge.
At City Region level we would abolish the Mayoralty and create a small elected authority with links into appropriate Lead Cllrs in both control and opposition positions inside the authorities. For example, police governance, as opposed to police actions, would be led by a regionally elected member with a board composed of those with community safety responsibility in the councils within the regions.
So, thanks Joe and Andy for proving to the public what Lib Dems already knew – that the Mayoral system just doesn’t work. We will campaign at the elections on May 6th next year to abolish these positions and provide an integrated system of governance with the maximum involvement of the local community. Only the Lib Dems will be making these pledges so the choice for local people will be clear. It will either be a Lib Dem vote for positive change or a Lab/Con vote to keep in place a failing and corrupt system