Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Conservative Mayor Ended Labour's Grip on Local Politics; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Conservative Mayor Ended Labour's Grip on Local Politics; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

WRITING on these pages last Saturday, The Journal's regional affairs correspondent Adrian Pearson opened his column with the words: "If an elected mayor is the answer, what could possibly have been the question in North Tyneside?" Well, allow me to have at least a stab at providing an answer.

There are plenty of cynical explanations.

Elected mayors were originally the brainchild of the Tory cabinet minister Michael Heseltine in the early 1990s, and were seen by some at the time as an attempt to circumvent the power of high-spending, left-wing Labour councils.

Indeed, as Adrian pointed out in his column, this was precisely what later happened in North Tyneside, where Labour's stranglehold on local politics was finally thwarted by a succession of Conservative mayors in what became a recipe for decade-long infighting.

By the time New Labour came to enact Heseltine's proposed reforms, though, the agenda had changed somewhat. I believe Tony Blair's primary motivation for implementing elected mayors was simply to try to revive flagging voter interest in local government by, well, sexing it up. In that sense, it was no more than a reflection of the trend towards "presidential" politics that reached its apogee under Mr Blair, and which continues, though to a slightly lesser degree, under David Cameron.

The sorts of arguments that were heard then - "increased accountability through increased visibility" - are still used to promote the elected mayoral idea today, but a decade or more on, the debate has now become much more bound up with economic development and in particular with redressing regional economic disparities.

It is now very much part and parcel of the "city regions" concept that emerged from the wreckage of the regional government debate after the North East Assembly referendum debacle, with elected mayors seen as a way of giving their areas the kind of clout that properly-empowered assemblies might once have exercised.

This argument is already very much to the fore in the debate over whether there should be an elected mayor of Newcastle, for instance. …

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