The effectiveness of elected mayors

Reading Stephen Tall’s Lib Dem Voice post on police commissioners this morning, I found myself thinking about elected mayors and how some of the claims that are made for them and their potential effects.

One thought that occurred to me is that while there’s been lots written on elected mayors and the arguments for and against them (see this pdf from the Warwick Commission for a good summation), there doesn’t appear to have been any quantitative research into their effects. (But if you are aware of any, please let me know)

Because of the piecemeal way in which the mayoral system has been introduced across the country, it seems to me that there’s the basis for doing some interesting comparative research between local authorities with and without mayors. There are currently 16 mayors outside London, in a wide range of different types of local authority – metropolitan boroughs, London boroughs, unitary authorities and non-metropolitan boroughs all have mayors – and pretty much all those authorities with mayors have comparable authorities without them.

I’d suggest that there’s scope for doing statistical research comparing boroughs with elected mayors to similar ones without. It could look at a wide range of information about those areas and see how they’ve changed over the past ten years – for instance, at what rates have their economies grown, what’s happened to their unemployment rate, how much external investment have they attracted, how have educational attainment and qualification rates changed, how much tourism have they attracted, how many new houses have been built etc – and then compare the results for mayoral areas with non-mayoral ones to see if the system of government has had any noticeable statistical effect on their area.

I think there are important questions around democracy, accountability and other issues before making any changes like that – one reason why, if we’re going to have PCCs, they should have been trialled for effectiveness first in areas that wanted them rather than imposed everywhere – but it would help these debates if people who claim that one way or another is a better form of local government for an area could have some statistics to back that argument up.

Question: when you see a headline such as ‘Lib Dem Jo Bloggs calls for…’ do you assume that Jo Bloggs is a member of the party? To me, that seems quite a reasonable assumption to make, and appears to be the convention the media follows in most cases. If the person’s not a member, but connected in some other way to the party you might see a qualifier added like ‘Lib Dem supporter’, ‘Lib Dem donor’ or ‘Lib Dem voter’ but ‘Lib Dem’ on it’s own implies membership.

Yesterday, Conservative Home referred to ‘Lib Dem Mark Littlewood’ in the headline to this article (shorter version: he wants a return of the National Liberals and an electoral pact with the Tories) despite the fact that he hasn’t been a member of the party since 2009. In response, I tweeted:

Any article referring to Mark Littlewood as a Lib Dem has failed a basic fact check.

Despite not using his Twitter username, this came to the attention of Mark Littlewood, who then started getting rather angry at me for things I hadn’t said. For the record, I don’t dispute how he’s voted at recent elections, but I know many people who’ve regularly voted Lib Dem for years, and I wouldn’t expect the media to describe them as Lib Dems when they’re giving their personal views. They may think of themselves as Lib Dems, but when the media ascribe that label to someone I believe it’s implying a much deeper connection than merely being a voter or a supporter.

This isn’t about Mark’s views, but about how (to borrow a phrase) ‘membership has its privileges’. To describe someone as ‘Lib Dem X’ when they’re not a member is a simple journalistic error that’s easily corrected, which is why I talked about fact checks. Mark Littlewood publicly resigned from the party, and to refer to him in a way that implies he’s a member of it isn’t accurate, in the same way I wouldn’t refer to ‘Lib Dem James Graham‘ despite the fact that – to the best of my knowledge – he still holds mostly the same views he had when he was a member of the party. Surely this is an obvious point?