Sunday, May 04, 2008

.... And the turnout was over 45%, a postwar London election record.

Who says the Mayoral system is bad for local democracy?

The adoption of the directly elected mayoral model for local government has been a running sore with cthe Lib Dems ever since ex party member David Scott started his campaign to have one way back in 2004. A consistent claim by MP Adrian Sanders has been that the mayoral system itself is bad for local democracy and unpopular with the public.

The evidence in London fully supports my alternative view that having a directly elected mayor is the best way to regenerate local politics and re-engage the public in this vital tier of Government. I don't remember any local election with this level of interest; in fact I can't remember any political contest outside of a General Election that has garnered such fascination and detailed analysis from the media and in turn from the public. For several weeks now the London Mayoralty has come second only to Gordon Browns woes in the column inches and media time which is measured daily on Politics

There have been half a dozen televised debates, passionate arguments about congestion charges, bendy buses and community support officers; as well as a constant analysis of the problems and potential solutions to Londoners complaints and frustrations which would have been unimaginable had these elections been for the old GLC.

Londoners have been given clear, alternative options fronted by clear, alternative personalities to vote for refreshingly free of the kind of petty-minded, "yes he did; no he didn't" squabbling that epitimises most local election contests. And as a direct result the turnout was significantly higher than at any London local elections for decades.

From the democratic standpoint, the Boris has had his policies thoroughly analysed and publicisied so there will be no wriggle room for backtracking later. This is terribly important because one of the alarming side effects of low interest/low turnout local elections has always been that ruling administrations usually win with very few of their electorate having a clue what it is they actually promised to do, making it impossible to hold them accountable for failure.

It is true that the mayor has control of the main levers of power and yes, the Mayor doesn’t have to engage in the kind of committee compromise and smoke-filled room bargaining that went on under the old system - but surely that is one of the main benefits? Clear, accountable and above all open leadership is infinitely preferable to unaccountable fudge and compromise behind closed doors.

By endlessly complaining that the mayoral system is no good, by determining to abolish it and return Torbay to the cosy cartel that existed pre 2005 (when anonymous and unaccountable councillors felt free to increase their pay by 65% while slashing services and piling on taxes with impunity) the Liberal Democrats are playing with fire. They have put themselves in the same impossible situation that we Tories did in Scotland; having rubbished Scottish devolution for so long the Tories completely lacked credibility there - and when devolved elections eventually happened, they were virtually obliterated.

In short the evidence shows that the public engage more with a mayoral election, they understand more clearly what a Mayoral candidate wants to do with the power he is asking for, and once elected voters can judge him on his performance more easily.

And at the end of his or her term, if they are not happy, they can chuck him out and elect someone else.I think that is surely good for democracy and good for local Government.


Anonymous said...

The only people who dont like the mayoral system are from the party who were beaten.

Losers losing here, I think is their new slogan.

Derek Field said...

You must be very pleased with the local election results and the london contest Marcus, as it makes it obvious you are a shoo-in here in the Bay.

I think it is going to be 100% Tory Bay again very soon; and boy do we need it.

Anonymous said...

So was Ken good for London?
London and indeed all major cities are very different to Torbay. Where is the enthusiasm for executive mayors with Torbay’s neighbours? Is Tory South Hams or Lib Dem Teignbridge rushing to have an executive mayor ?

Marcus Wood said...

Even a cursory glance through the letters page of the Herald Express reveals that local politics has been galvanised by having a single, recognisable and directly elected person to applaud or deride depending on your point of view.

I predict that the next mayoral contest in 2011 will be hotly contested and have a substantially increased turnout and people will be more informed about who they are voting for and why (provided of course that the Liberal Democrats can find a candidate to stand!)

It has taken ten years for Londoners to see the benefits of their system.