The Case for Mayors

The IPPR have published their paper arguing that the government should make directly elected mayors a compulsory part English urban local government.

Our own Steve Bullock gets a brief mention:

The mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock, has successfully brought together different agencies to develop a particularly effective local strategic partnership (Dhillon 2006).

The case is essentially that the mayors we have already have a pretty good track record and secondly that creating more of them might persuade central government to devolve more power down.

Introducing more elected mayors would constitute an important break from the centralised system of governance that prevails in England, and would most likely unleash further devolutionary momentum. Mayors represent a potentially important means of reanimating local democracy, of improving the leadership of England’s urban places, and providing a sufficiently legitimate and robust system of leadership for the centre to feel able to devolve greater decision-making powers to local government.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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20 Responses to The Case for Mayors

  1. ross says:

    i can’t see the necessary connection myself between the need for a mayor and that of devolving power away from central government, the later is perfectly doable with the former

    personally i’m in favour of devolving power away from central government but i’m not in favour of the arbitrary & somewhat absolutist power of mayors (elected or otherwise)

    i think this is a weak argument from these folk, trying to connect the two things together, when in reality there’s not necessary connection between the two

    and if i recall correctly, public support in favour of mayors has not been exactly high in the areas where they have had referendums on it, so it does seem a bit odd when talking about devolving power (with the presumable aim so that power is closer to those that are affected by the wielding of that power), to talk about overriding expressed opinion on the matter and making the structure compulsory, typical top down view of things

  2. Dave Cole says:


    I don’t there’s a necessary connection, but there is a reluctance on the part of central government to move power downwards unless there is a ‘number to call’ for a local council. That’s a lot easier with an executive mayor.


    Although I generally agree with the argument for mayors, I think the IPPR’s argument is a little teleological. “Are there any instances of local authorities with directly-elected mayors failing” is a question that also needs to be asked.


  3. Andrew Brown says:

    Dave, not in England. So far. Seems to be the answer, but I’m sure there are examples from overseas – perhaps Mayor Barry’s time in charge of Washington would be an extreme case in point.

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    Well, Drummond managed to get himself re-elected with a bigger majority last time, and was up for world mayor of the year if the IPPR report is to be believed.

  5. ross says:

    as did the nazis………

  6. Andrew Brown says:

    Are you really sure you want to make that comparison Ross?

  7. ross says:

    the point is that just because someone is elected, that in itself, says nothing about their supposed merits, the nazis are as good as an example as any to make that particular point

  8. Andrew Brown says:

    Well, I think the differences are blindingly obvious.

  9. ross says:

    yes the monkey isn’t a nazi, well spotted

    your initial retort on the matter was rooted in the fact that he was elected/re-elected

    i pointed out, by means of an example, that this means nothing in itself

    if you’d like to point out where i said there was no differences at all between the two things i’ll gladly reconsider my position

  10. Andrew Brown says:

    Maybe I should have quoted the report more fully:

    He has coordinated policies that have led to a 20 per cent fall in crime, and overseen demonstrable improvements in education and social service provision (Randle 2004).

    In its last CPA review, Hartlepool was judged to be one of the top-performing authorities in the country, achieving a 4-star (‘excellent’) rating. Drummond was subsequently re-elected with a massively increased majority.

    Hardly the failure you suggested with your original link to the BBC story.

  11. oisleep says:

    where did i suggest he was a failure?

    the point (of the link) was about how the institution of mayor tends to leads to the cult of the personality type shows that we are currently seeing in london at the moment (albeit in hartlepool it only seemed to start of like that, and not necassirly continue, although the point remains)

  12. Andrew Brown says:

    Maybe it’s my misunderstanding then Ross. The link comes after a comment from me answering Dave’s point about failure… I assumed you were carrying on that argument.

  13. oisleep says:

    ah i see, fair point – nah, was just trying to use that as a (light hearted) example of my distaste for concentrating a heap of power in the office of one person

  14. Andrew Brown says:

    Just goes to show how while this medium has many strengths, it remains limited.

  15. ross says:

    indeed, i’d say real communication has suffered immensely with the rise of the internet

  16. Lone Ranger says:

    Are the authors of the IPPR report bananas or trying to make monkeys out of us?

    One of their prime arguments for elected mayors is that central government will leave local government alone to make their own decisions, yet the authors propose “The Government seizing the initiative on this issue and moving decisively to abandon the referendum requirement.”

    The authors complain it’s so unfair others are better organised than themselves and win the argument. For them the answer is for central government to make mayoral referendums a mandatory requirement, as “This deliberative innovation would also help level the playing field for campaigners who favour this office.”

    What are the authors suggesting when they write; “The architects of the Local Government Act fatefully decided to make a majority ‘Yes’ vote in a local referendum the pre-condition for the introduction of a mayor. This procedural device has now become a major obstacle to the wider introduction of mayors.”

    The authors seemed to be saying their argumenents are not good enough to win referendums and it’s unfair the other side win the argument and the way to give councils freedom from interference by central government is for central government to impose a system on councils.

  17. M Harris says:

    Maybe before people comment on the IPPR report, they should read it, it’s only 20 pages.

    The fact is, local political parties are often not favourable to directly elected Mayors because in the case of opposition parties they feel a strong executive makes them redundant, and in the case of the majority political party, those around the edges of power may not want a strenghtened executive at the expense of their own political power.

    However, local authorities with Mayors have produced better results (a disproportionate number are rated 4* like Lewisham – the top audit commission grade), have enhanced local democracy by producing strong accountability, and have produced higher turnout.

  18. ross says:

    is there a big enough sample size to assert the linkage between having a mayor and having high rated councils though (most of the london boroughs without mayors seem to have higher ratings than those with mayors for example)

    also i presume for what you say to be true, all those who have mayors and are currently 4* rated, were previously much worse rated prior to the mayor being instituted (and the improvement in their rating has increased by a higher amount than the average improvement see in councils that don’t have mayors?)

    is this actually the case? (i’ve no idea how to check the historical stats on this)

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