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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A voice for the city: how should mayors respond to terror attacks?

Andy Burnham speaking in Manchester yesterday. Image: Getty.

When Andy Burnham, a former British government minister, won the election to be Greater Manchester’s Metro Mayor recently he was probably focused on plans for the region’s transport, policing and housing – and, of course, all the behind the scenes political work that goes on when a new role is created. The Conversation

And yet just a few weeks after taking on the role, terrorism has proved to be his first major challenge. Following the horrific bomb attack following a concert at one of Manchester’s most popular venues, he quickly has had to rise to the challenge.

It is a sad fact of life that as a senior politician, you will soon have to face – and deal with – a shocking incident of this kind.

These incidents arrive regardless of your long term plans and whatever you are doing. Gordon Brown’s early tenure as UK prime minister, for example, saw the Glasgow terror incident – which involved an attempted car bombing of the city’s airport in June 2007. Just four days into his premiership, Brown was dealing with the worst terrorist incident in Britain since the attacks on London in July 2005. Andy Burnham now finds himself in a similar situation.

Giving Manchester a voice

For Burnham, as the mayor and messenger of Manchester, an attack of this scale needs a response at several levels.

There is the immediately practical – dealing with casualties. There is the short term logistical – dealing with things like transport and closures. And there is the investigation and (hopefully) prevention of any follow ups.

But he will also need a “voice”. People look to particular figures to give a voice to their outrage, to talk about the need for calm, to provide reassurance, and to offer unity and express the sadness overwhelming many.

Part of the thinking behind the UK government’s enthusiasm for elected mayors was a perceived need to provide strong, local leaders. And a strong, local leader’s voice is exactly what is needed in Manchester now.

There is a certain choreography to the response to these events. It tends to go: a brief initial reaction, a visit to the scene, then a longer statement or speech. This is then usually followed by a press conference and interviews, along with visits to those affected. I say this not to be callous, but to highlight the huge demand the news media places on leading political figures when tragedy strikes.

‘We are strong’

As expected, Burnham made a speech on the morning after the attack. It is probably better described as a statement, in that it was short and to the point. But despite its brevity, in nine paragraphs, he summed up just about every possible line of thought.

The speech covered evil, the shared grieving and the need for the city to carry on. He also praised the work of the emergency services, and highlighted the need for unity and the very human reaction of the local people who provided help to those affected.

Andy Burnham on Sky News. Image: screenshot.

Burnham now has the task of bringing people together while there is still doubt about many aspects of what happened. A vigil in the centre of Manchester was rapidly planned for Tuesday evening, and there will be many other potential initiatives to follow.

Incidents like this tend to leave a large and long-lasting footprint. The effects of the bomb will last for years, whether in concrete reality or in people’s awareness and memories. And Burnham must now lead the effort to ensure Manchester emerges from this shocking incident with cohesion and strength.

Paula Keaveney is senior lecturer in public relations & politics at Edge Hill University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.