John Prescott discovered with the North East Referendum that despite years of calls for devolution if politicians and your government are unpopular then the referendum will be used to send politicians a bloody nose. Yesterday the Prime Minister in a characteristic’ mega miscalculation said that he hoped that electors would vote for a ‘Boris in Every City’ – that went down well in Manchester didnt it.
“I want a Boris in Birmingham, I want a Boris in Leeds, I want a Boris in Bradford. They don’t all have to be members of the Johnson family.”
Today at time of writing Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry have voted No, and looks strongly like that Birmingham and others have also dismissed the plan.So far not one city has voted for an elected Mayor and it is unsure that if any will.
Manchester voted against by a margin of 53.24% to 46.76%, and Nottingham by 57.5% to 42.5%. Both cities had a low turnout of 24%.
The outcome in Coventry was more resounding, with just 36.42% backing the change and 63.58% opposing it.
Throughout the issues raised in the campaigns have been what powers will we get and how do we recall a bad mayor- and the government has not been able to answer. With turnout low there has been no compelling reason to say yes.
Overall this looks like a giant miscalculation for Greg Clark who refused to set out the powers that would be devolved saying it should evolve organically and be subject to negotiation with those affected. However of course if a government only devolves to a mayor it trusts why have an elected mayor, why not just have an appointed governor? The whole point of having an elected Mayor is to have someone who can occasionally confront government.
This position alarmed the all party Yes campaign which for several days seeing which way the wind was blowing has been openly critical of this tactic. Compare the GLA vote for example – where the powers of the Mayor and Assembly were carefully thought out in advance and evolved organically thereafter. There was no real thought given in advance of what job needed doing – as for example over commuter rail – and what powers therefore needed to be devolved. All that was on offer was an lected council leader who like council mleaders would do little more than implement austerity.
The Warwick University Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership last month concluded, rightly, that the process would be doomed political gimmick unless city mayors run the economies and transport networks, as well as the education, health and welfare services, of entire surrounding regions, but then doing things in ‘regions’ is a banned thought. Behind this suppression of powerful bodies below the level of the state is truly a Norman centralising Yoke and not an Anglo Saxon decentralising localism.
Councillors and Council leaders should not take this as a vote of confidence. This was a profoundly ant-politics vote with many anti-politicians sitting at home. If the referendum had been to exile all local cllrs to Siberia a resounding yes vote would have been likely.
Greg Clark then may have undone all of the goodwill from the PM he gained from MPs backing the final NPPF if the results of the referendums are as disastrous as they look, early promotion or promotion at all now looks less likely. One possible way to resolve the situation is to propose very specific powers for a Birmingham Mayor and run another referendum in two years time, if these include greater fiscal powers the approach of local cllrs might change and like Liverpool there could be a yes Council vote without the need for a referendum. The package offered to Liverpool was worth £130 Million, for Birmingham their mouths were not stuffed with enough gold.
The result however equally creates problems for Labour – what will its manifesto say now on Cities and Localism?
Meanwhile Liverpool has its first elected Mayor Joe Anderson – elected with 57% of the vote. Peel holdings have got their man.