Alexandra Jones considers the factors that will determine the outcomes of the mayoral referenda.
This time next year, it’s likely that the Prime Minister’s ‘Cabinet of Mayors’ will have met at least a couple of times. London, Leicester and Liverpool are already on the guest list. But how many – and which – additional cities will have seats at the mayors’ cabinet table?
The answer is that no one can really be certain. The FT wrote a piece today suggesting that it would only be Birmingham who would go for a mayor, with perhaps Leeds and Bristol to follow. Other sources I’ve spoken to suggest that far more cities could go for the mayoral model – potentially including Nottingham, Bradford, Wakefield and Coventry, with Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester more uncertain.
The wording of the question may help encourage a ‘yes’ vote because it highlights that having a mayor will be a change from how things work now – which could encourage anyone discontented with the status quo to opt for a mayor, regardless of their views on the merits of this approach.
And local polling is varied: in cities such as Leeds polls suggest that many people are in favour of mayors – just, while in Manchester the latest poll suggests a ‘no’ result – but again, only just. There are simply no guarantees of how people will vote on 3 May.
Turnout is likely to be low, fuelled by general apathy and disillusionment with politicsand politicians, although it’s difficult to tell which way this could swing the referendum.
Lack of awareness about the mayoral contests doesn’t help either. Local debates suggest that there is limited awareness of either the contests or what having a mayor might mean. This is despite a national ‘yes to mayors’ campaign working hard to raise awareness of the issues, and local ‘no to mayors’ campaigns doing the same thing from the opposite direction.
It’s certain that the governance map of England will look very different by November. But it will only be on 4 May that we’ll know how many of England’s major cities will be sitting round that cabinet table.
[And, if it’s just a few, then perhaps Ministers could convert the Cabinet for Mayors into a Cabinet for Cities? That could be an interesting way to get city issues on the Whitehall agenda, even if they don’t have a mayor…]
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