So.... Manchester, Nottingham, Coventry and Bradford have rejected the proposal for a directly elected mayor.
I am mildly surprised actually. But I guess there was always a philosophical disconnect between a centrist London cognoscenti push to get regional cities to adopt elected mayors and the ethos of localism and the general power of competence. You do have to ask why successive governments get it so wrong with trying to persuade the nation that regional government is the way forward. Nobody seemed to learn much from the ill fated attempt by John Prescott trying to convince very sceptical, and very opposed, regions to vote for a regional government structure back in the day. That was a complete waste of time, but we didn't read the runes. The mayoral referenda were touted as a key part of localism and improving democratic accountability but, contrary to everything which the Government promoted, the public seem to have perceived it as absolutely the opposite.
I suppose if I'd been pushed on the issue, I was broadly in favour of the idea of the elected mayors. Most regeneration practitioners are, simply because there is powerful evidence worldwide about how much an effective mayor can do for any city seeking inward investment. But there were some scary numbers being bandied about in regard to how much the institution of an elected mayor would cost in some cash-strapped UK cites. And debate about whether such an office was needed at all! In many cases, the exact effect of a civic champion is already being achieved, through a localist approach. As a general rule, if anyone is looking for the best example of civic leadership in this country, they do not point to Ken or Boris, but to Richard Leese and Howard Bernstein in Manchester, where the council is run efficiently and where there have been some fantastic results in terms of regeneration and investment. And I have written much about the impressive performance of Team Nottingham in this blog, but I have to say that the informal partnership between the private and public has certainly proved hugely effective in attracting inward investment and in showing real civic leadership and vision.
Liverpool of course has already voted in favour of a directly elected mayor (and my congratulations to Joe Anderson, the successful candidate) but, sadly, it certainly has a way to go before it approaches the level of market confidence that Manchester (or Nottingham come to that) can aspire to. We can only hope that it marks the beginning of a new resolve for Liverpool and shows a city gaining in strength and confidence through new economic regeneration. Time will tell.
At the time of writing, we wait with baited breath to see what happens in Newcastle, where an elected mayor could have the potential for a significant impact on the way in which the city operates in the future, ditching the baggage, and moving forward. But people do not seem to expect a Yes vote (although stranger things have happened as we know). And of course, most significantly, we are still awaiting the Birmingham result. But, seriously, if that comes back as a No, flying in the face of the tradition of Joseph Chamberlain, together with the prospect of such a glittery array of potential mayoral candidates (so much better than anyone on offer to London), then it will be a poor showing indeed for the coalition government.
If I were Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg (oh, if only...), I would draw a line conclusively under all this immediately, and move on. And I certainly wouldn't waste any more time and energy trying to interest a disenchanted, disaffected, public in reform of the House of Lords. The poor turnout yesterday is indicative of a country voting with its feet. It is now time for a forceful strategy for economic growth, using whatever blunt instruments there are at our disposal, whether it's mayors or empowered council leaders, we don't care. Frankly, we cannot afford any more democratic reform.