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LONDON BATTLES TURN PUBLIC OFF DIRECTLY ELECTED MAYORS

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The bitter political battle to become London's first directly elected mayor has caused a slump in support for the e...
The bitter political battle to become London's first directly elected mayor has caused a slump in support for the establishment of such a post in other cities, according to an ICM poll in The Guardian (p13).

The survey shows that the campaign in the capital has helped to turn overwhelming majority support in February for directly elected mayors in cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool into a majority firmly opposed to the idea.

The survey also finds that despite having to deal with politically difficult issues such as asylum and Rover, Labour has actually increased its share of the vote over the month and is one point up, on 45% higher than their share of the vote in the general election.

February's ICM poll for the Local Government Network showed that 59% of people wanted the opportunity to elect a mayor or council leader directly and 32% did not. This month's poll shows that now only 22% want to have a directly elected mayor and 61% believe local government should be left as it is.

The Guardian's leader column, entitled 'Better the devil you know', says Tony Blair and his closest colleagues can take some comfort from the drama and excitement of the London mayorality campaign. 'When did we last hear words like drama and excitement being deployed in the context of local government?' it asks.

But what they cannot have bargained for it the state of affairs disclosed by the new poll. 'It is easy to underestimate how badly the London example has been playing across the rest of the country,' it adds.

'The government's three options for new patterns of local government exclude the status quo. All have the effect of concentrating power into far fewer hands, with public debate and scrutiny put at risk in the interests of more dynamic executive action.

'Many councillors, demoralised by the steady erosion of local government power and responsibility and the relentless advance of central intervention, fear the new systems will leave them sidelined, while oligarchs run their towns.'

The leader concludes: 'The government complains, with some justice, that such people are too attached to a cosy status quo. But it will no doubt come as a comfort to such municipal stalwarts, as well as a wild surprise, that so many of their customers are beginning to treasure the present system just as we are abandoning it.'

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