What's at stake in England's mayoral elections this week?

Long queues are expected at the polling stations. Image: AFP/Getty.

On Thursday 5 May, when the UK heads to the polls for local and regional elections, voters in London, Salford, Liverpool and Bristol will have an extra choice to make – who they want to become their next directly elected mayor.

Mayoral elections – assuming no death, resignation or disqualification – are for a fixed four year termThat means those mayors last elected in 2012 will face a contest this year. 

These elected mayors have a great deal of power – unlike their purely ceremonial counterparts who tend to be senior councillors wearing the robes of office and tasked with carrying out a range of civic duties. Directly elected mayors are there to exercise political leadership and to “get things done”. 

The modern British mayoralty began back in 2000, following a referendum in London which supported the creation of a mayor and a Greater London Authority and provided legislation to introduce the structuresMore positions were created shortly afterwards, in places as different as Bedford, Doncaster, Lewisham and Middlesbrough. Tony Blair was an enthusiast as is David Cameron.

The push to create more elected mayors has continued ever since. By the middle of next year there will be more than 20 elected mayors across England. And in the recent budget, the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, spoke about increasing the numbers again which could mean more to come.


For or against?

Those in favour argue that mayors can provide strong local leadership: research looking at the impact of the mayor in Bristol has shown that the introduction of an elected mayor directly resulted in an increase in the visibility of city leadership.

But those against say that the creation of elected mayors actually reduces local democracy with most elected representatives having little or no power. This is because the more power belongs to the one figure, the less power each individual councillor has.

One example of this is is that, whereas an adminstration’s budget could be defeated by a majority, the mayoral budget requires a two-thirds majority. Mayors also may not feel answerable to elected councillors because, rather than being elected by the council (as council leaders are), the mayor has a direct mandate.

The decision to have a mayor is often taken by a referendum, although there are examples – such as in Liverpool – where local people were not consulted and the mayor was elected by the council. Decisions have also been revoked – both Stoke and Hartlepool decided to abandon the role after controversies. Hartlepool’s elected mayor, Stuart Drummond, was an independent candidate best known for his role as the local football team’s monkey mascot. And a lot of other local electorates in England and Wales have actually rejected the idea altogether.

Despite the significance of these positions, turnout in mayoral elections has been low – participation in the last London contest did not reach 40 per cent. And in Liverpool, back in 2012, just over 31 per cent cast a vote. Politicians know that turnout is partly driven by a sense of a close contest, but in London there was a perception of a contest and yet still the turnout was low.

What does the role mean?

Being an elected mayor is a big job. The largest constituency in Liverpool has an electorate of around 70,000, while the figure for the mayoral contest is closer to 320,000.

The powers of elected mayors vary – but they have great symbolic importance and individuals can develop a strong personal presence, becoming “Mr Salford” or “Mrs Watford” for example. The focus on the individual also encourages image building. The first directly elected mayor of Middlesbrough, former senior Cleveland police officer Ray Mallon became known as Robocop by many,

Many MPs or former MPs also seem to view becoming an elected mayor as a good career move – and in London both main players are current MPs. Leicester’s elected mayor is former MP Peter Soulsby, while Ian Stewart in Salford was MP for Eccles at one time, and former MP Sion Simon reportedly plans to contest the West Midlands post next year.

How does the voting work?

Voting in the mayoral elections is a little different to voting in local or parliamentary contests – the system used is the supplementary vote. This basically means that electors get a first choice and a second.

If no candidate reaches the 50 per cent threshold, only the top two remain in the fight and all the other ballot papers have their second choices transferred. This clearly affects campaign strategies and messaging – annoy the supporters of every other candidate and you are unlikely to get second preferences. Boris Johnson needed second choice votes to get across the line in 2012.

There is also the consideration of how the other polls happening on the same day will influence the way people vote. While we might want to believe that voters carefully consider each role separately before making their choice, we know that the presence of one very popular or very unpopular individual on one ballot paper is likely to affect thinking about others.

I voted by post today and had three ballot papers – mayor, police and crime commissioner, local councillor – which is a lot of decisions to make about our future leaders in one go. If elected mayors are to have the legitimacy the government desires then electoral engagement needs to increase.

But it’s not the voters fault if they don’t see the point. It is down to mayors themselves to become better at making us see them as relevant enough to care about.The Conversation

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

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

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.