So what should England’s new mayors do now?

Andy Burnham, looking pleased at having won something. Image: Getty.

Our new mayors have wasted no time. They would have been forgiven for taking the weekend off, but there was no time for a hangover. The morning after the election before, Andy Burnham had announced his top team, and Andy Street had met with the Prime Minister. The devolution tremor (it could hardly be called an earthquake) rumbled on.

All six of England’s new mayors will naturally look for some quick wins. We have already seen some of the glamour we’ve come to expect of our-front bench politicians – high-profile photo opportunities and interviews with national media, normally reserved only for our London-based stars.

No doubt, with all this attention, in about three months’ time, people will be asking the mayors “what have you achieved in your 100 days?” – as many did with our London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Absolutely right. IPPR has pushed for mayors for decades, and, since they were first proposed, IPPR North has argued that this model has great potential. These mayors have a mountain to climb; they need to get off to a good start.

But if they only to focus on making a short-term impact they will waste the full potential they have. They only have 3 years – so more like a 1000 days – to make far bigger changes. And if, when they stand in front of the electorate again in 2020, they simply reel off a list of the low-hanging fruit they’ve picked, then many of us will be disappointed – not least the people they could have helped.

These mayors are a big deal – they shouldn’t set their sights so low. Yes, people are right to point out the technical limitations of their powers. As an individual they have little direct power – rightly, given the need for checks and balances in any fair and mature democratic system.

When interviewing people for our recent report, the ‘soft power’ of the position came up a great deal. But it is so important not to mistake ‘soft’ for ‘ineffective’ – or worse, ‘weak’.


‘Soft power’ is the power to convene homelessness charities across a city region, and help rough sleepers directly within days of taking office. And ‘soft power’ becomes ‘hard power’ when it translates into the politics of the combined authorities these mayors will chair. If they can work with their colleagues then billions of pounds can be marshalled to a more effective, collective cause.

A new forum of debate and a new politics has been ignited within our city regions – some of the biggest issues will be within these mayors’ soft and subtle influence and combined authorities’ direct remit – from the quality of the air we breathe, to the pay and progression of the jobs many do.

And if they deliver, this could in time be seen as one of the most profound changes to English governance in decades. For those of us who recognise the UK – or more specifically England – is the most centralised of developed countries, we hope this is the thin end of a powerful wedge.

We hope that more mayors will follow (some are pencilled in for next year). And we hope that this opens up a fresh conversation about how England is governed – a country of 55m people, now ruled almost entirely from Whitehall.

The new mayors have already broadened the debate beyond their own borders – Andy Burnham has supported IPPR North’s ideas for Council of the North and both he and Steve Rotheram have pushed for northern leaders to come together on Brexit.

So yes, it is important to have a short-term impact, and raise the profile of our city regions. It’s exactly what we need. But there’s a much bigger prize to be won. Last week’s tremor has finally opened a crack in our centralised politics. Let’s hope we can now break it wide open.

Luke Raikes is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North. He tweets at @lukeraikes.

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Here are all the names of London tube stations that we’ve just stopped noticing are weird

What the hell. Swiss Cottage. Image: Oxyman/Wikipedia Commons.

Angel

 “The next station is Gnome. Change here for Elf, Cherubim and Gnome.”

Arsenal

Would be a lot less weird if it wasn’t a good eight miles away from where they actually built the arsenal.

Bank

It’s like something from a kid’s picture book where everything is labelled incredibly literally. Was even sillier when the next station along was still called Post Office. (It’s St Paul’s now.)

Barking

Disappointing lack of doggos.

Barkingside

Same, also a surprisingly long way from Barking.

Bromley-by-Bow

But not by Bromley which, once again, is eight bloody miles awy.

Canada Water

No.

Chalk Farm

Chalk isn’t a plant, lads.

Cockfosters

...

Elephant & Castle

What.

Grange Hill.

Hainault

Hang on, that’s in Belgium isn’t it?

Hornchurch

There are literally horns no the church, to be fair.

Kentish Town

Actually in Middlesex, nowhere near Kent.

Knightsbridge

Not only no knights, but no bridge either.


Oval

Might as well have a station called “oblong” or “dodecahedon”.

Oxford Circus

Plenty of clowns though, amirite?

Perivale

Does any other London suburb promise such a vertiginous drop between name and reality?

Plaistow

To be honest the name’s fine, I just wish people knew how to pronounce it.

Roding Valley

The river’s more than 30 miles long, guys, this doesn’t narrow it down.

Seven Sisters

None that I’ve noticed.

Shepherd’s Bush

“Now where are those sheep hiding now?”

Shepherd’s Bush Market

Because one bush is never enough.

Southwark

1. That’s not how that combination of letters should sound. 2. That’s not where Southwark is. Other than that you’re fine.

Swiss Cottage

Sure, let’s name a station after a novelty drinking establishment, why the hell not.

Waterloo

Okay, this one is definitely in Belgium.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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