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Interesting analysis Andrew. And it’s really sweet the way Centre for Cities cling so grimly to the great man theory of history. But the proposition that concentrating power in a single person is the way to promote good governance and smart growth does not stack up. Professor George Jones has pointed out recently that the collegiate team leadership more characteristic of UK local government encourages exploration and development of policy from different perspectives. And a single person will find it more difficult to represent the diversity and complexity of a large city or non-metropolitan area.
Archie Brown’s recent book The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political leadership in the Modern Age provides a good overview of practice across the world – and concludes that collective is better than personal leadership. He quotes Joseph Chamberlain and Herbert Morrison as good examples of transforming – yet not directly-elected – city leaders. More modern examples might be Ken Livingston, Shirley Porter or Richard Leese.
Of course, you can point out to some examples of successful Mayoralities as well – Ken Livingston in his (one of) later incarnation(s) or Boris Johnson’s end-of-the-pier show. But the evidence linking specific examples to policy conclusions is weak.
The real problem with the elected mayor model is the damage which it does to the role of other directly-elected councillors and the way in which it subverts the UK constitutional settlement – Parliament is (technically) sovereign and not the UK government, unlike other countries such as the US where the Courts are the final arbiters of the Constitution. Local government reflects this principle – the full council of all the elected members is the responsible legal body. In both cases power is exercised on a day to day basis by a government/Cabinet chosen from the main body.
While it is true that this does not always work well – as the examples in Anthony King & Ivor Crewe’s recently updated book on The Blunders of Government prove. And there have been plenty of examples in local government as well. But we should be trying to re-energise our city governance, not undermining it. Surely we can do better than the old Rowan & Martin Laugh in joke about John Wayne ending the Vietnam war by flying to Hanoi and punching it in the jaw. Superhero cape waving is best left to the comics!