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'What new metro-mayors can learn from Ken, Boris and Sadiq'

Alexandra Jones
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In less than six months’ time, new metro-mayors will take office in some of England’s biggest cities, armed with the largest personal mandates in UK politics apart from Sadiq Khan’s.

Yet the new mayors will also face significant challenges, both in delivering their electoral promises, and in the critical role they need to play in establishing the new mayoral offices within the UK’s highly centralised system of government.

To make a success of the roles, the new mayors should learn from the successes and mistakes of London’s mayors since the role was created in 2000. A new Centre for Cities report offers some of the most important lessons the new mayors can take from Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, and Sadiq Khan’s experiences in office, as well as some potential pitfalls to avoid, based on interviews with their senior political advisors.

Setting out a clear vision of what they want to achieve in office, and how they’re going to do it, will be crucial, as both Ken and Boris did by articulating a consistent vision of London as a global city, embracing its diversity and business potential. Furthermore, securing an early and visible policy win, as Sadiq did by implementing the ‘Hopper’ bus fare, will help shore up public support for the new roles and demonstrate that the mayors mean business.

It will also be critical for the new mayors to work effectively with national government, which will make the final decision on the resources at their disposal and the major projects they can deliver, even if that means working across party-political divides. For example, when Boris took in office in 2008, his willingness to cooperate with the then-Labour government was vital in eventually delivering a hugely-successful Olympics Games.

Forming effective partnerships with local government partners will also be vital for the new mayors, especially as the devolution deals will introduce cabinets of local authority leaders, with the power to veto some mayoral decisions with a two-thirds majority. But mayors will need to balance this with taking full advantage of their considerable mandate (having been elected by hundreds of thousands of people) to act boldly and decisively on the issues that matter most to their cities. It was by exploiting his personal mandate that Ken Livingstone, for example, introduced the congestion charge in 2003, while Boris Johnson went beyond his remit as mayor to oppose plans to expand Heathrow.

There’s a lot at stake for the new mayors. Learning the lessons – both good and bad – from the experiences of the capital’s mayors will not only help ensure they make the right decisions on behalf of people they will represent, it will also help to secure the long-term future of the mayoral offices in the UK’s political landscape.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive, Centre for Cities

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