Appearing on Newsnight to oppose directly elected mayors (catch it here for another few days though the format was not so great), I reflected on the fact that regardless of the strong arguments against elected mayors (mine are here), at the next election there will nevertheless be a number of elected mayors — mostly as a result of a local referendum — including in London, probably Birmingham, and a number of other cities. Some of them at least will still enjoy local support and the powers will still exist for more to be created.
Furthermore one of the arguments most frequently used by the proponents of directly elected mayors is about “voice” – Birmingham needs a mayor, they claim, because of the need to compete for funds and influence with London’s mayor, Bradford competes with Leeds etc. One consequence of this is that there may be a snowball effect. Lord Adonis, Labour’s leading advocate of directly elected mayors, hopes so.
So perhaps those of us who oppose them need to think of how to tighten the checks and balances so completely lacking in current legislation, and how the conditions under which they are created might be reformed to ensure that if they happen, it really is with public support. Up to now, the debate has been almost entirely about whether we should have them, with almost no attention paid to how they might be made more accountable if we do. Here are some ideas, some for legislative change, some for Labour’s own procedures:
- If directly elected mayors are to be introduced, it should only be after a local referendum, and subject to the support of a minimum of, say, a third of the electorate. Not after a decision of councillors alone (like Liverpool this year) or Salford’s referendum where just 10% of the electorate supported it.Budgets and all policies draw up by elected mayors should require approval by a simple majority of councillors/London assembly members not the 2/3 majority now required — a reform which Lord Adonis says he supports.
- All appointments of councillors to the cabinet, other council positions and outside bodies must be subject to ratification by the council or a council committee, with a confirmation hearing where appropriate, together with any senior staff appointments made by the Mayor personally.
- Directly elected mayors should be subject to a maximum of two terms.
- Labour Groups should not be bound by decisions of a Labour Mayor, but should be free to determine their own collective policy and actions.
- Mayoral candidates should be subject to a full selection procedure for each term, through an electoral college consisting giving an equal share to individual party members and to members of all nationally affiliated organisations who reside in the relevant area.