4 May 2012

Voters cool on ‘Mayor Boris in every city’

Voters across England, from Manchester to Newcastle, reject David Cameron’s dream of an elected mayor in the major cities.

So far, only Bristol has voted in favour of an elected mayor. Electors in Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sheffield, Bradford, Coventry and Wakefield voted against.

Doncaster voted to retain its mayor.

In Coventry, the vote was 36.42 per cent in favour of the change, with 63.5 per cent opposing it. The votes against in Nottingham, Bradford and Manchester were, respectively, 57.6 per cent, 55.13 per cent and 53.24 per cent. 62.2 per cent of Wakefield voters rejected an elected mayor.

Critics have argued that the creation of elected mayors in British cities was unnecessary, adding another expensive layer of bureaucracy to local politics.

Jon Collins, Nottingham City council’s Labour leader, said: “This was a referendum imposed on us by the coalition government, which the majority of local people clearly did not agree with.”

But Housing Minister Grant Shapps stressed that the mayoral system was not being imposed on cities. “The whole point is to give people a say. No-one is forcing mayors on anyone.”

Voter apathy

Commentators have blamed the vote on several factors, including voter apathy and the coalition’s failure clearly to explain the benefits of elected mayors.

If you look at the mayoral referendums, the turnout was abysmal. Only Bradford went to over 30 per cent. Prof Leighton Vaughan Williams

“If you look at the mayoral referendums, the turnout was abysmal. Only Bradford went over 30 per cent,” Professor Leighton Vaughan Williams of Nottingham Business School, told Channel 4 News.

Political analyst and former Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves maintains there was little “above the line” activity from Westminster to promote elected mayors, apart from funding local councils to produce leaflets explaining the proposals.

“The only explanation is that there were a lot of opposing forces within the government,” Mr Reeves told Channel 4 News. “Communities Secretary Eric Pickles didn’t agree, but David Cameron did, so responsibility for selling the idea was delegated to Greg Clark [minister of state at the Communities Department].”

Political establishment

Lewis Baston, senior research fellow with Democratic Audit, believes that voters may have rejected elected mayors precisely because the idea had the endorsement of the prime minister and other major political figures.

He cites the example of Birmingham – considered before today’s result to be the city most likely to vote in favour of the idea. “Birmingham has been seen as the best chance, but the fact that a lot of the political establishment there supported the idea may have turned voters off rather than attracted them.

“It’s an interesting contrast with Salford, where a referendum earlier this year promoted from scratch by a few activists actually voted in favour of a mayor, despite the fact that the political establishment there was against.

“It makes you think that the chances of winning a referendum, for instance on Lords reform, look pretty bleak.”

‘Haphazard’ approach

The last word, though, should go to Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond, who has been re-elected mayor of his city twice after being originally voted in in 2002 as part of a publicity stunt.

He agrees that the government’s approach to selling the idea has been “completely haphazard” and half-hearted.

“If they really did think this was the best way forward, then surely they would have imposed it on places rather than leave it to chance,” he told BBC Radio’s Today programme.

“Because the Lib Dems have always been against the mayoral system, there has never been a true coalition policy for it, and it just seems to be one of David Cameron’s little hobby horses.”