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Six minimum reforms for making directly elected mayors more accountable

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.


  1. Andy says:

    Sorry, you are off the mark. Elected Mayors can never work for the people. They take away the democratic mandate and any serious possibility of accountability. I am from Stoke-on-Trent. Our experience should be examined and learnt from……

  2. Tower Hamlets Shenanigans says:

    Elected mayoral systems are a complete waste of taxpayers’ money as the elected representatives almost all end up making unilateral decisions without any meaningful consultations on most important affairs. A referendum result approving a mayoral election does not mean that the elected mayor will be held accountable to the public, contrary to what we’re told. In all the cities and boroughs with mayors a separate referendum should be done asking voters whether they would be happy to see the extinction of the mayoral system that would save taxpayers money with which very often privileges including paid advisers, luxuries like extravagant offices and private vehicle hire are bought as in the cases of Mayor Boris Johnson of London, his predecessor Ken Livingstone and indeed local council mayors of Newham (Sir Robin Wales) and Tower Hamlets (Lutfur Rahman) in child poverty-stricken east London where both these men enjoy a life of luxury!

  3. Gary Elsby says:

    Labour Elected Mayor’s can, will and have formed coalition’s with Conservative groups to get their own way (not the Labour way) and this process can, will and has been carried on without any support at all from the Labour membership.

    It can, will and has (proven) be acknowledged by Labour’s NEC (Regional Director acting on behalf of) and contrary to the will of Labour members who’s only avenue was to openly protest or walk away (approx 500).

    Come to Stoke-on-Trent for more proof.

    Why do you think 500 of us walked away, were denied any role in local Government, orr in my case banned from the Parlaimentary Panel of which I was the only member on it?

    Oh, yes, Tristram Hunt (MP????)

    “If you want a say in local Government, the Government or the Labour Party, then join us today”

    Not in Stoke-on-Trent though where elections are banned and all opposition to a Mayor was eliminated.

    Ps. The man who formulated the referendum on the keeping/removing the Mayor was awarded the ‘National Merit award’. A few weeks later he joined me in being denied any role in serving Labour in local Government (he resigned membership). You can find him on the democracy4stoke website.

    Stoke people removed the Mayor.

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