While the results for the 2012 Local Elections poured, in The Constitution Society was carefully watching the series of referendums as to whether some of the UK’s major cities should have a directly elected mayor. A key initiative of the Coalition, the case for directly elected mayors had been strongly articulated by many in Government and Opposition, with the Prime Minister calling for a ‘Boris in every city’.
As it happened London did indeed return Boris Johnson as mayor, but of the eleven cities voting on whether to have a directly elected mayor or not only two opted for it over a council cabinet system. Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle Upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield all rejected a mayor with ‘No’ votes of 57.8%, 55.1%, 63.6%, 63.3%, 53.2%, 61.9%, 57.5%, 65% and 62.2% respectively.
Bristol alone voted yes, with 53.3% of voters supporting the change while 62% of voters in Doncaster supported retaining their mayor. Along with Liverpool and Salford, who did not put the question to the electorate, these two join London as the only English cities to have directly elected mayors.
The envisaged ‘Cabinet of Mayors’ from across the country will be relatively empty, significantly missing some of England’s major cities while including some of the smaller ones. The low turnout for these referendums are also of concern, and The Constitution Society calls on government of all levels to better engage citizens.
The current patchwork approach to directly elected mayors may prove challenging. How the relationship between central and local government develops will remain of great interest to The Constitution Society.