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ANALYSIS - THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL WIELD MAYORAL POWER

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The UK's first mayoral elections have served up a choice platter of weird political scenarios. They range from alar...
The UK's first mayoral elections have served up a choice platter of weird political scenarios. They range from alarming, with angry man Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough Council, to awkward, with divided government in North Tyneside MBC, to ridiculous, with H'Angus the monkey in Hartlepool BC.

In other parts of the country, like Watford BC, Doncaster MBC and London, things may be a little more conventional, but it is the situation in the north-east which will be seized upon by anti-mayoral campaigners as proof the policy is a bad idea.

Mr Mallon, who has admitted to gross misconduct as Middlesbrough's detective superintendent, did not use his victory to make peace but war, telling his enemies he knew where they were and was watching them.

The Labour group, which numbers 41, say they are considering whether or not they will not work with him. The Conservatives, of whom there are just four, say they will. But the chances of Mr Mallon forming a lasting and tight-knit cabinet seem slim.

Middlesbrough's MP Stuart Bell and its chief executive John Foster are casual. Despite attacking Mr Mallon in a speech to Parliament, Mr Bell says he is sure they can 'work in tandem'. Mr Foster says: 'I am not apprehensive. Politicians come from all sorts of backgrounds.'

Defeated Labour candidate Sylvia Connolly is less restrained, saying the rest of the country will 'run a mile' from the policy now they have seen the result. She warns Mr Mallon will not be able to deliver: 'He is going around making these glib statements [about stripping the top tier of management], but if anyone needs management support it is him.'

In North Tyneside, Conservative winner Chris Morgan faces 33 Labour members and 19 Tories on a council of 60. Mr Morgan has said he will treat the council as a Tory one, while Labour has warned they will oppose him if he is goes counter to residents' interests. If Labour works with the eight Liberal Democrats they will be able to veto Mr Morgan's proposals.

How this situation will play out only time will tell, but there are two options. In the US 'divided government' is welcomed as it is perceived as a check on the power of government. In France, 'cohabitation' is thoroughly discredited as voters believe the government can no longer achieve its objectives.

In Hartlepool, Peter Mandelson MP's face said it all - this was not how it was supposed to go. After his election Stuart Drummond, the man inside the monkey suit, came out with laudable but idealistic plans for cross-party working and opening cabinet meetings to the public.

Will the government now turn its back on mayors? Elections expert Michael Thrasher says: 'If these results don't put the government off the idea completely I don't know what will.'

But the New Local Government Network, which campaigns for elected mayors, is unfazed. Campaign manager Anna Randle says the dramatic results merely show politics is finally working: 'They are just the result of immense disaffection and dissatisfaction over years of mismanagement and poor accountability. It was a positive statement on the part of the electorate. There is no point in introducing a new system if you elect the same people.'

Ironically, the results in Newham LBC illustrate this point too - but from the opposite angle. Its mayoral election merely cemented Labour's vice-like grip on the council, with leader Sir Robin Wales (Lab) winning the big prize, and the party keeping 59 of the 60 seats. But despite a triple whammy of electronic voting, early voting the weekend before and the mayoral election, the turnout was down from 28% in the last election to 25% for mayor.

Alan Craig, Christian Peoples' Alliance mayoral candidate, says the creation of a mayor would have been good, but with the Labour leader being elected nothing will change.

Newham LBC chief Executive Dave Burbage says: 'I am proud that once more we are at the forefront of change. Having a mayor is extremely positive for the council and for the people of Newham and I am very much looking forward to continuing to work with [mayor] Sir Robin Wales developing the excellent work already carried out by the council over the next four years.

'We will be working hard to raise the profile of local governance and its importance in the coming years.'

If Mr Mandelson's words are anything to go by, the government is still keen. He says: 'I will work with Mr Drummond. He is committed to the town, he is sincere and he has hung up his monkey suit.

'One of the reasons people either didn't vote in this mayoral election or voted as a protest, or voted as a bit of a joke, is because they did not take seriously promises that were being made.

'Part of the responsibility has got to be put on the government. It has got to prove it is putting real resources behind these changes. These are things for the government to ponder on.'

He says he is 'proud and pleased' to be MP in one of the few areas which went for a mayor. 'I was one of the only politicians who campaigned for it in the area. I'm pro-devolution [and] this speaks very well for Hartlepool. [The monkey and I] will coexist reasonably well,' he adds.

Yet if the only choice is between antagonistic or naïve newcomers, and the same old faces, mayoral politics has some way to go before it matures.

'When I was leader for five years there were a number of frustrations the system could not resolve. The decision making process almost didn't happen. A mayor will be more decisive and will be accountable.'

Steve Bullock (Lab), Lewisham LBC mayor

'I think the difference between being leader of the council and elected mayor is accountability. It is my head on the block now, there will be no excuses, there will be no hiding place.'

Martin Winter (Lab), Doncaster MBC mayor

'I think the honest answer is that no one in local government knows exactly how elected mayors will work successfully with chief executives because we haven't done it before.'

David Marlow, Doncaster MBC chief executive

'We are moving into the era of paid politicians. People want to see change. People are dissatisfied with the way the council has been run by the Labour leadership [which] has a terrible relationship with the county council.'

Dorothy Thornhill (Lib Dem), Watford BC mayor

'I would look to the government to start transferring powers, for autonomy for Watford. The county council is remote and has no political ideology in line with Watford residents.'

Vince Muspratt (Lab), Defeated leader of Watford BC

'The mayoral election has produced a lot of interest and changed the dynamics of the election in quite a noticeable way. It will take people time to get used to the idea.'

Stephen Timms, Newham MP and education minister

'The creation of the mayor could be good but if Labour won it nothing would change.'

Alan Craig, Christian Peoples' Alliance mayoral candidate in Newham LBC

'As mayor there is now an opportunity to show voting matters. [Being mayor] will not change the relationship [with chief executive] as far as I am concerned.'

Sir Robin Wales, Lab, Newham LBC mayor

'[Middlesbrough chief executive] John Foster will be working with me extremely closely over the next four years. I will never ever abuse authority or power.'

Ray Mallon (ind), Middlesbrough Council mayor

'The corruption is a genuine fear. The referendum was supported by West Ham and business. They were all part of the Masonic network that ran the place in the 1970s and 1980s.'

Fred Jones, former Labour council leader but standing as an independent for Newham LBC

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