London and English city mayors
by Ben Rogers
The mayoral poll of 3rd May is potentially a game changer for London. Not the elections for the Mayor of London - they are important but unlikely to prove any sort of watershed. I’m referring to the referendums on switching to mayors in the big English cities outside London.
Between the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986 and the creation of the Greater London Authority in 2000, London stood out among large cities for not having any form of pan-city leadership. Since the election of the first mayor, however, London has been equally unusual in having a directly elected and increasingly powerful mayor.
This May however, ten of the largest English cities that have not so far opted for a mayoral system of government – as Liverpool and Salford have already recently done – get to vote on whether to do so. It looks likely that a good proportion of them will choose to trade in the old leadership-by-committee style of city government for a directly elected mayor, including Bristol and Birmingham, and possibly Manchester.
This should be a good thing for English cities. As the London record suggests, mayors can provide very high profile and strong leadership. Ken and Boris have both been effective in winning government investment in London. Would we have Crossrail, the Congestion Charge, the Olympics or Boris Bikes without a London mayor?
But why are these elections a game changer for London?
In one way, they are a threat - a new generation of high profile, directly elected mayors will be a stronger voice promoting themselves to central government and to business, in direct competition with London.
Yet the development of a new generation of confident, higher profile city mayors also represents an opportunity for London – in adding weight to the campaign for a further devolution of powers from Whitehall to England’s cities, making sure that it is not just Scotland that gets further self-government between now and the next general election.
The newly elected Mayor for London – be that Boris or Ken – will need to seize the initiative and demonstrate his interest in the rest of the UK by building and leading a powerful coalition of city leaders, chief among them the new generation of elected mayors. He should also be offering support and guidance on how to make mayoral system work. Perhaps there’s an advisory role here for the losing candidate?