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What if mayors ruled the world?

12 April 2014

4:11 PM

12 April 2014

4:11 PM

Once, countries competed. Now, cities do. Take the above video of Stockholm, boasting about being the best place in the world to live and work. As the magician says, ‘it’s not a coincidence’ that the Swedish capital is doing well. It’s an example of all that can go right in a city, thanks to the power of elected mayors. Since 1920, Stockholm has had a variety of powerful leaders who have shaped the city with their own vision. As the magician explains, it’s a great place to live.

It’s not just Stockholm that has benefited from a good municipal leader. Plenty of other cities are thriving without help from their national governments. In this week’s Spectator magazine, I look at the rise of mayors around the world, including George Ferguson of Bristol and Boris Johnson of London, and how doling out more powers and accountability might be the solution to restoring trust in politics:

‘Londoners (there are more of them than Scots and Welsh put together) can argue that Boris has made more of an impact on their lives than David Cameron. And this is with the Mayor of London having fewer powers than most mayors. He is one of many from around the world — Tony Tan in Singapore, Yury Luzhkov of Moscow and Wolfgang Schuster in Stuttgart — who argue that the city is the optimum government unit.

‘Some go even further and believe that empowered mayors are the only hope of restoring faith in politics. In his book If Mayors Ruled the World, the American political theorist Benjamin Barber argues that mayors are the remedy for opaque and disconnected political institutions. Nation states are ‘indisposed to cooperation’ and ‘too inclined by their nature to rivalry’, he says. But cities can do what the states and nations cannot. In other words, we ought not to look to David Cameron and Barack Obama for visions of the future — we should look to Boris and Bloomberg.’

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One of the fundamental reasons people like mayors is because they are more independent, less ideological and more personable than most politicians. Although voters generally distrust everything to do with politics, it’s not entirely uniformed. As the politicians get more local, their trust levels increase. YouGov carried out some polling last year where almost double the number of people stated they trust local MPs compared to senior officials from the European Union:

Sadly, directly-elected mayors have never really taken off in Britain. One of David Cameron’s grand projets was to devolve more powers locally than ever before, but sadly it was not a success in government. Out of the eleven cities asked in 2012 if they wanted elected mayors, only two said yes — thanks to a mixture of indifference from the government and a natural British scepticism of power. The jury is still out on how successful elected mayors are in Britain — compare the rebirth of Bristol to the divisive regime of Tower Hamlets. But with ever-decreasing turnouts and the rapid rise of Ukip, our mainstream parties, politicians and institutions are no longer catering to the needs of voters. Powerful mayors may well be the solution Britain is waiting for.

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Show comments
  • Unbanked

    You, Sebastian Payne, must be a product of the distorted imagination of a really toxic decomposition of the Neo Con Lib Dumb Laboured idiocy about Society.

    How else could you write something so totally ignorant & contradictory as follows?

    “The jury is still out on how successful elected mayors are in Britain — compare the rebirth of Bristol to the divisive regime of Tower Hamlets. But with ever-decreasing turnouts and the rapid rise of Ukip, our mainstream parties, politicians and institutions are no longer catering to the needs of voters. Powerful mayors may well be the solution Britain is waiting for.”

    You give no evidence for any aspect of your idiotic assertion as you illogically conclude

    “Powerful mayors may well be the solution Britain is waiting for”!

    How crass!

    “Power” over who?

    “Power” as against what absence of power?

    Not a surprise then that you do not countenance accountability,m transparency, audit let alone the needs day to day of ordinary people, in Bristol or in Tower Hamlets.

    Given that Boris Johnson has been manufactured by the PR project for the Neo Cons that includes the Spectator, the Daily Telegraph, it is very creepy that you have nothing to say by way of analysis on the disaster that has been the London Mayor!

  • Raw England

    Fuck London. London was OUR capital city; now its colonised by immigrants.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Lib-Lab Con government, Lib-Lab Con Mayors or Lib-Lab Con police commissioners. No real choice for ordinary people. Just the same professional political elite with their wonk background and wonk advisors imposing ideological constraints on more and more aspects of our lives, telling us to do as they say not what they do and thinking they know best what is good for us. Which so far has been an epic failure on so many fronts it is almost impossible to sum it up.

    Almost every issue we are currently facing has been caused by them and the “solutions” to the problems they themselves have caused bring even more problems and misery. An overpopulated country, flooded with foreign immigrants, besmirched by wind farms, beset by endless red tape and regulation imposed by foreign bureaucrats and ruled over by a corrupt political class of astounding arrogance, shallowness and immaturity, two thirds of which are faceless, unelected and unaccountable.

  • HookesLaw

    In what way has any Mayor of London made any impact greater than a prime minister and governing parliamentary party. The Mayor of London runs the buses.
    He does not set taxes, he does not set local authority allocations, he does not control health or education.

    • Slicer

      The Mayor of London should really have the power to set taxes in London. At the moment the Mayor of London is more like an ambassadorial role rather than a heavyweight political position.

  • monty61

    What a load of nonsense. A quick look at mayoral politics in the USA should quickly disabuse anyone of the notion that cities do it any better than Westminster.

  • Ron Todd

    Bristol got a man in a pair of clowns trousers. How much power should he have? Hartlepool got a monkey.

  • willshome

    Really it’s just about a globalised economic elite being able to swan around the world ignoring demcracy and the realities of life for most of the people’s of the earth, isn’t it? So long as you’ve got your opera houses and restaurants for the oligarchs, with Starbucks for the lower echelons, and a few poor suburbs out in commuterland to house your cleaners, who cares if it’s London, Stockholm or Dubai?
    “And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that.” Lord Acton

  • Hexhamgeezer
  • Smithersjones2013

    One of David Cameron’s grand projets was to devolve more
    powers locally than ever before, but sadly it was not a success in
    government. Out of the eleven cities asked in 2012 if they wanted
    elected mayors, only two said yes — thanks to a mixture of indifference
    from the government and a natural British scepticism of power.

    So exactly what powers were to be devolved to elected mayors of these cities from central Government?Surely if you replace a group of elected councillors by a single Mayor that is centralisation (ie one person has the power previously shared by several) and not as is pretended here some sort of localism…

    Now in that light is it any wonder that the people of those cities turned their backs on the power hungry designs tories who no longer have an adequate local party infrastructure to successfully fight these cities otherwise?

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Oh, and the basic premise is daft. Let’s just think of a list of bad mayors. Daly, Nagin, that guy from Detroit, Red Ken…

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    From that survey there are a lot of naive folks about.

    Unless they are reckoning you can trust some politicians to let you down every time.

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