If last week’s series of results from the local and European polls proved anything it was that sometimes democracy is overrated.
The good people of Greece and France have decided that austerity is not for them. The French have elected a Socialist president who is determined to overturn his country’s previously agreed compliance with the ‘bail out’ package agreed by the EU, whilst the Greeks have left nobody in charge of their asylum, as extreme party’s from left and right have failed to find coalition partners to form a government. The ramifications on the global economy of all this are anybody’s guess, but it is fair to suggest that it ain’t good news.
Closer to home, the idea of elected mayors for England’s core cities was well and truly rejected across the country, with Leeds and Manchester among those who voted ‘no’ in referendum’s to decide if their local government structures should be modernised. Bristol voted positively, and it joins Liverpool as only one of two core cities to have directly elected mayors. Liverpool, of course, opted out of the referendum process, and the council adopted the city mayor model at its own volition earlier this year.
For advocates of mayors, this is a big blow. There is little doubt that many of our local councils are in need of a huge shake up. They are often slow, bureaucratic and monolithic. However, given the opportunity, local people did not see the alternative on offer as a progressive step.
Without wanting to analyse the reasons for the almost wholesale rejection of mayors too much, I would say that the government failed to spell out exactly what powers and responsibilities mayors would have – and even had they done that, they were not offering a ‘Boris in every city’ as the Prime Minister suggested. The fact is that only city region mayors provide that, and that was not on offer.
Had it been, then well run, successful authorities such as Manchester would have backed the move and maybe secured a ‘yes’ vote’.
Nonetheless, the biggest reason for the ‘No’ vote was dissatisfaction with the coalition government. The voting public, all 30% of us, had decided that we would use any chance we had to give Cameron, Clegg & co a kick, and the referenda on mayors was simply another opportunity to do just that in most people’s eyes.
Putting constitutional change to the vote sounds laudable, but in reality it is a cop out. Politicians, locally and nationally, know that our government structures are archaic and belong in the nineteenth century.
Modernising local government may seem irrelevant to some, but building effective private/public sector partnerships and putting in place efficient decision making processes is part of developing an infrastructure that supports economic growth.
Lancashire is a prime example of local politics hindering progress. Ironically the county that is governed by fourteen councils, and two unitary authorities in the shape of Blackburn and Blackpool, was not given a chance to change this craziest of local government arrangements.
The government needs to show some leadership in this area, and implement much needed change by imposition. Democracy is not always the answer!