This graphic charts the history of England's elected mayors since 2000

Hartlepool remains the only English city to have elected its football mascot, H'Angus the Monkey, as mayor. Image: Yaffa Phillips/Flickr/Creative Commons.

England's modern system of elected mayors was first introduced by the Blair government. London was first out of the trap, electing Ken Livingstone – at that point an independent who didn't keep banging on about Hitler – in 2000.

But other places soon followed. At first they were most relatively small places – a couple of mid-sized cities like Middlesbrough and Stoke; some smaller towns; some boroughs that make up parts of other cities (Hackney, North Tyneside). The bigger cities appeared later: Leicester in 2011; Bristol and Liverpool the following year.

Matthew Smith, formerly of the think tank Policy exchange, has turned all this into a graphic you can use to track which cities have mayors, and who they voted for in each year since 2016. You can play with it below.


Two trends jump out at you. One is that mayors are a lot more likely to be independents (grey, on the graphic) than most elected politicians in Britain. Partly this is probably the nature of the role.

But it may reflect something else, too. In more recent years – as the recent elections in London and Bristol highlight – the Labour party has come to dominate the mayoralties. That's probably because Labour has increasingly become the party of urban Britain – but when it was in national government, people were less inclined to vote for it in local elections. Since the residents of, say, Middlesbrough were never likely to vote Tory, though, they seem to have opted for an independent instead.

The other trend is that some cities, er, changed their mind. Stoke's mayoralty was abolished in 2010. Hartlepool's mayor Stuart Drummond had proved surprisingly successful (he served three terms), despite having originally been elected in the guise of a football mascot, H'Angus the Monkey, in 2002 – but this didn't stop the town abolishing the post altogether in 2014.

More to the point, perhaps, the vast, vast majority of English towns, cities and boroughs never bothered creating them in the first place. I think that's what one might call a "mixed picture".

At present, there are, by my count, 17 elected mayoralties in England. But that number will increase substantially – how substantially we don't yet know – when the new metro mayors are created in May next year. This graphic is about to get a lot more crowded.

Here it is. Have a play.

 

 

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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