As I’ve said before, I think the idea of centralising power in councils into one person isn’t a very good one, regardless of whether that person has the title of Mayor, Leader or Lord Grand High Poohbah.
Twelve cities across the country would hold referendums to get rid of their council chief executives and hand over the powers to an “executive mayor”, who would take over the role of hiring and firing staff, determining council operations, and directing spending, as well as offering political leadership.
Yes, not content with all the political power being constrained in one individual, they want to put all the administrative power in there as well. (As a point of comparison, imagine what the Tory reaction would be if Gordon Brown announced that he was going to sack Gus O’Donnell and give the powers of the Cabinet Secretary to either himself or Peter Mandelson).
But notice the key power these new ‘executive Mayors’ would have – the hiring and firing of staff. Yes, the political machine is about to make its long-awaited return to British politics, with individual politicians, now free of all the checks and balances of the old Council system, able to dish out jobs and to their supporters and backers. Say goodbye to old local democracy and welcome instead Democracy 2.0 (which bears a striking resemblance to Clientelism 1.0, but pay no attention to the endemic corruption behind the curtain). A Tammany Hall on every High Street, ready to dish out the Mayor’s largesse (in return for your loyalty and your vote, of course) with none of those concerns about accountability, fairness or representation.
Maybe Caroline Spelman, unlike Chris Grayling, actually has watched The Wire, though it would seem she missed the point and thinks that Clay Davis was the unsung hero of the series.