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Preparing for elections

Tony Travers
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Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

With just over 10 weeks to go until the local elections, a number of English cities are preparing themselves either for mayoral elections or for referendums about whether or not to introduce mayors.

Extra powers are to be given to core cities, and it must be assumed that additional resources will be channelled into any cities that vote ‘yes’

Leicester decided long ago. Liverpool City Council has voted to move straight to a mayoral contest, with current Labour leader Joe Anderson and journalist Liam Fogarty among the declared contenders. Salford voted in a referendum last month to introduce a mayor and will also vote on 3 May. These decisions, though made in different ways, suggest that other cities may make the change.

In Birmingham, former Labour leader Sir Albert Bore supports a mayor for the city, as does the Bishop and a number of current and former MPs. If Birmingham and, say, Bristol join Liverpool in making this radical reform, we will see a major test of how far a change of leadership model can assist a city’s development. Extra powers are to be given to core cities, and it must be assumed that additional resources will be channelled into any cities that vote ‘yes’.

London will see a neck-and-neck re-run of 2008’s epic struggle between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, with Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick attempting to avoid his party’s worst-ever result in this contest. This year, the media are likely to spend rather more time in Kensington L6 and less in Kensington W8.

By the end of 2012 England will have a number of big city mayors who, together, may be able to re-balance the constitutional centralism from which the country suffers. For cities that opt to keep their existing leadership model, there will be concerns that Liverpool and other newly minted mayoral power-bases will be able to attract more limelight (and money) than hitherto.

Parts of England and the whole of Scotland and Wales (apart from Anglesey, where the election has been postponed for a year) will see a round of council elections which political pundits will inevitably use as a test of everything from the likelihood of Scottish independence to Ed Miliband’s long-term survival chances. But the elections matter more than that: they decide how local services survive austerity. They are not a national opinion poll.

Tony Travers, director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics

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