Jobs for the boys down at City Hall….
John Healey could be the next politician to pension himself off to a City Hall near you, well, near you if you live in or around Sheffield. This got me thinking about elected mayors. Generally I am a bit of a sceptic, except in the case of Birmingham where my desire to rid the Shadow Cabinet of Liam Byrne outweighs every other consideration, about the whole idea. I don’t see what real value they add to the democratic process and my cynicism is increased by the number of MP’s who are de-camping to run in mayoral contests; it’s starting to look a bit like jobs the boys created for their best buddies to take at a higher salary than the average MP’s one.
I suspect the electorate will start to feel the same; that at least part of the appeal of elected mayors for the political class is yet another opportunity to propagate itself at the taxpayers expense. The real democratic deficit in local government is not in-fact the ‘Cabinet system’ of governance that many councils employ, after-all that is no different to the one employed on a national scale at Westminster, but the way the powers that local authorities has been slowly leached-off by central government. Elected mayors do nothing to address this and end up taking more powers away from local councils and vesting them in the executive office of Mayor.
Britain seems to be looking principally to America for methods to solve its creeping democratic crisis. We are moving, for one thing, from a more collective system of governance to one dominated by powerful executive offices fronted-up by one individual. This, however, is a step-away from democracy and definitely not a step in the right direction. Elected mayors, open primaries, elected police commissionaires are all good examples of this; however, that is to fundamentally mistake the causes and solutions to this crisis. The cause of this crisis is an increasing alienation from democracy in its representative state; a feeling it is them and us and that choosing your representative in any given office is a pointless exercise which does not increase your control over your life. Given this I fail to see how allowing people to merely elect more representatives is going to make a blind bit of difference, especially when what is on offer is merely the same people wearing different, albeit more feathery and downright silly, hats. What I suspect will result is more elections in which people will still not turn out to vote.
It’s time to stop choosing quantity over quality when it comes to democratic reform. If you want to make local government more relevant and democratic, for example, then what you really need to do is repatriate powers to Town Hall’s up and down the land. If they were seen to have these powers and play a more pivotal role in people’s lives then it follows that people would become more democratically engaged with them and participating in the process of their choosing. At best, elected mayors are an expensive bauble, at worst they are an insidious threat to the democratic process which does more harm than good and therefore they should ultimately should be opposed.