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The elections for England's first directly-elected mayors outside London have proved dire for Labour. ...
The elections for England's first directly-elected mayors outside London have proved dire for Labour.

In Hartlepool BC the election of a man in a monkey suit - whose expenses were paid for by Hartlepool United - made a joke of the whole process and said more about the power of football than the impact of the election on the public consciousness.

In Middlesbrough Council, too, the£30,000-a year-post in a solidly Labour council went to a controversial ex-detective superintendent who has admitted 14 disciplinary charges brought by the police.

The Liberal Democrat winning in Watford BC and the Conservative candidate winning in North Tyneside MBC only served to emphasise that, where people voted for a mayor, old party allegiances counted for little.

In at least two of the towns which saw mayoral polls last week, the successful candidates had no experience of running a council. If they do turn out to be incompetent there is nothing in the Local Government Act 2000 which allows for getting rid of them before the next election.

It means anyone can stand as mayor, as in the case of Stuart Drummond who entered the Hartlepool race just a month before the election promising to give all schoolchildren a weekly banana.

Mr Drummond may turn out to be a competent leader, but going from being a call centre worker to running a council with a budget of more than a£100m in a matter of days is no easy feat.

The only way out for mayors, unless they resign, is if they

breach the code of conduct for councillors. The scrutiny function and the new Standards Board for England will be crucial. But what

if they simply cannot control the budget, or get their heads around the needs of social services and education?

This could be the real result of Labour's big experiment, but it is no reason to abandon it.

The government has yet to decide on whether to force Birmingham City Council and Bradford City MDC into mayoral referendums, and it looks like it was waiting to see what happened in the first round of mayors.

If it decides to abandon the process in light of these results it will be a slap in the face for democracy.

Mayors could still work for local government. What the government needs to think about is what safety net should be put in place to catch a monkey who gets out of control.


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