Monday, 31 August 2009

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

There is a consultation / vote going on in Manchester regarding whether or not we have an elected mayor. In the light of low turnouts in local elections, the Government in its wisdom decided that what we needed was more ‘personality’ politics and ‘American-style’ elected mayors, (actually elected mayors could equally well be described as ‘European-style’ but our slavish obeisance of all things from across the pond wins out as usual).

It is now the City of Manchester’s turn to consult on whether we have a ‘Council Leader and an Executive’ or an ‘Elected Mayor and an Executive’; in some ways a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee – any more radical or different ideas are decreed as impermissible. It apparently comes down to whether you want someone like Richard Leese or someone like Terry Christian

The current City Council’s blurb on the consultation makes it clear they prefer the no-mayor status quo, (itself a temptation to vote for a mayor). The nature of the ‘vote’ as well leaves much to be desired – we received one voting slip for our household, for 2 present voting adults.

Some people may think this is an equivalent of the London Mayor – nothing could be further from the truth. In London the Mayor covers the whole conurbation of Greater London, and has a democratically-elected Assembly to provide checks and balances at that level. It would make some sense to replicate this in Greater Manchester, a conurbation of 10 local authorities with boundaries which cut across physical and social lines which is arguably second only to London in size in this country.

My use of ‘democratically-elected’ with Assembly was deliberate. The London Assembly is elected by a form of proportional representation, unlike Manchester City Council or indeed any other local authority in England. I’ve already mentioned the need for fair votes in a recent blog.

As in London a range of functions are administered at conurbation level from transport to waste to police, and of course Greater Manchester did have an elected authority until Thatcher abolished it in the 80s. My daily journey to work runs close to the Manchester – Trafford border, and no outside could tell which block of flats sat in which borough.
In addition to the above, responsibilities for tackling climate change are likely to pass up to the conurbation level, increasing the need for some sort of accountability at that level (at the moment the group of 10 authorities operate under the sinister-sounding acronym of AGMA).

However on that last climate change point, unless we get some serious commitment to tackle the problem, minor tinkering with the structure of the City Council will be no more effective than rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.

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