Published in April 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Mayor’s Office in London. Photo: Patrick Down
In 2000, Londoners voted for the first elected mayor in Britain’s history. The mayor of London and the Greater London Authority were created to fill a gap, the capital having been without a citywide authority since the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986. Elsewhere, by contrast, elected mayors are being grafted on to a traditional local authority structure in which in the past the whole council was the executive and all councillors in theory enjoyed legislative power. More recently, most councils have been run on a Cabinet system. It is not yet clear whether the graft will take. But if it does, the mayors could spearhead a revival of local government and civic pride.
Directly elected mayors will be highly visible local leaders. A 2004 survey showed that 57 per cent of the public could name their elected mayor from a prompt list, compared to just 25 per cent who could name their council leader. Mayors will enjoy a citywide mandate derived from the voters rather than from a party group. It would defeat the object of the exercise if a directly elected mayor representing the city could be thwarted by a bare single-party majority on the council. Therefore the mayor’s policy proposals and his budget can only be rejected if there is a two thirds majority against them on the council.
But suppose the voters elect a minority or independent mayor who is unable to secure the support of 34 per cent of the councillors. That is no mere theoretical possibility. Of the 22 individuals outside London who have held mayoral office, seven have been independents and two Liberal Democrats, while Ken Livingstone won the first mayoral election in London as an independent, defeating the official Labour Party candidate.
While the Greater London Authority is elected by proportional representation, other councils in England are elected by the first-past-the-post-system. This often pr…