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Ruth Kelly's recent speech to the Core Cities Summit has put the Whitehall cat among the municipal pigeons (LGC, 29...
Ruth Kelly's recent speech to the Core Cities Summit has put the Whitehall cat among the municipal pigeons (LGC, 29 June). In making the case for more elected mayors she has ruffled the feathers of leaders. Some of them have even said they would prefer to face restructuring than have new governance arrangements thrust upon them. Good Lord, it must be an unpleasant option.

Kelly lacks the populist appeal of some of her Cabinet colleagues but she is still the consummate politician. She knows that there are no votes to be had in wittering on about double devolution. In a world where council tax is groaning under the pressure and where there is no prospect of Sir Michael Lyons coming up with a magic solution to make it all go away, she can't afford the local government white paper to be a damp squib.

So here's the deal, she tells council leaders. If you want the powers, you need to offer something in return. If you want me to go into bat for you with the PM and Cabinet, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Why is this so unpalatable?

I was surprised to read that Sir Richard Leese, Labour leader of Manchester and himself a canny politician, felt the alternative was 'supersized local area agreements'. Perhaps they talk of little else on the trams of Manchester, but I doubt it.

Every time I visit the city, I can feel the energy and confidence in the air. As Sir Richard has spearheaded the transformation of Manchester into a world-class city, it must be inconceivable that anyone else would be such a dead cert for elected mayor. But then I've heard that the politics of the north west are harder than a Wayne Rooney tackle, so perhaps I'm being naïve. Who knows - maybe Cristiano Ronaldo would be the man for

the job?

Kelly even went so far as to praise Ken Livingstone during her speech. I once heard him say that his whole strategy as mayor of London, based on the experience of Rudy Giuliani in New York, was simply to focus on doing a few key things. At that time, opinion polling in the capital showed that half of all Londoners thought the best thing about Ken was that he had introduced the congestion charge. The other half thought that the worst thing he'd ever done was... introduce the congestion charge.

Kelly said that she wanted to see governance arrangements that provide a clear mandate to take tough decisions across a city or region. The word 'tough' seems to me to be at the heart of the whole debate. Livingstone was able to introduce the congestion charge because he had the mandate to do so and the strength of character to live with the accountability. It's no surprise that the Conservatives,

in their move to open up the mayoral candidacy to all Londoners, describe the position as 'London's

top job'.

Many of the decisions facing major cities and regions - on regeneration, the environment, housing - will mean making some of the people very unhappy some of the time. A single point of accountability, both for central government and the local electorate, is essential. We can't have world class cities without world class leaders.

This isn't about the cult of the personality either. I saw it myself in New York last year when mayor Michael Bloomberg romped home to a landslide victory in his second term. He lacks the charisma of Giuliani but is an effective leader who, in the eyes of New Yorkers, has done a few key things well. Anyone who has met Steve Bullock, mayor of Lewisham, or Jules Pipe, mayor of Hackney, will know that they don't operate by spin or bluster. But when it comes to toughing it out, they'd give Rooney a run for his money.

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