Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, November 28, 2011

Elected British mayors

The idea of devolution is not limited to the outer nations.

The mayors show
Next year 11 British cities will have the chance to replace the existing local-government structure, in which leaders are chosen from the ranks of councillors, with directly elected mayors. The coalition government sees this as a way of devolving power and strengthening localism…

Elected mayors are still a political novelty. Londoners embraced a mayoralty in 2000…

London’s mayor controls transport policy (hence the capital’s congestion charge), oversees the capital’s policing through the Metropolitan Police Authority and sets a council-tax “precept”—a small addition to the property taxes levied by boroughs. His regional counterparts probably won’t get anything like that degree of freedom. David Cameron, the prime minister, has backed away from earlier plans for powerful “executive mayors”. A consultation on powers, which will conclude in January, hints vaguely that mayors will be “ambassadors and champions” for their area…

So it is by no means certain that Britain’s cities will vote for mayors next year… In some solidly Labour cities, the reform is derided as a “Tory” gimmick. Councillors in towns like Coventry are already campaigning against a change.

There are reasonable doubts about how effective mayors can be without clear new powers. Sam Sims of the Institute for Government, a think-tank, notes that people are more likely to vote for mayors if they know local government will be reshaped as a result…

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