Thursday, January 26, 2012

David Miliband makes the case for Mayors

pic courtesy of Coral Grainger + instagram
David Miliband was in Manchester last night for a Labour Party event where he was interviewed by DJ and writer Dave Haslam and I actually really enjoyed it.

There's a decent review here on Manchester Confidential, so I won't attempt to repeat that. But a few additional thoughts occurred. The first is over the issue of public engagement in politics and the second is linked to that - the issue of city Mayors.

What I like about David Miliband the thinker, the backbench MP and the activist, is he has a very analytical view of the way the world is changing. The reason I joined another 150 people on a wet Wednesday night at the Mechanics Institute was because I was very impressed with his contribution to a debate on the world a decade after 9/11 I heard in London last year - there's a link to a bit of it here and I have been particularly impressed with some of his non-partisan thinking on issues like youth unemployment.

Also, to be fair, his Movement for Change sounds very grand - get community groups who are involved in political (with a small p) campaigns and issues and work alongside them. By engaging with them the Labour Party can renew itself by listening as well as learning. At least I think that's how he defined it.

I liked his analysis of politics and how to find political solutions in stages -"empathy, analysis, vision, policy and implementation." To illustrate by example he cited the problem of youth employment, and was both logical and creative.

In answer to a question on Mayors for Britain's cities he held his hands up in deference to Manchester Labour people and said he was in favour. The political establishment in Manchester is opposed. At an event I chaired last week Sir Richard Leese mapped out his reasons for opposing - Manchester has evolved a political structure where the 10 local authorities have combined some key functions. They come under the control not of Manchester City Council, but the Combined Authority, made up of all of the boroughs. That is led by the elected leaders and organisations to administer these joint functions. Manchester is not being offered the opportunity to elect a Boris or a Ken.

Yet I've heard David Cameron make the same case for a Mayor being the accountable and elected office that you can knock on the door of. Great cities need one. The difficuty about what is on offer so far is way removed from that. Salford is voting on the issue today - I'm hearing a turnout of less than 15 per cent will reject the idea - but this is no way to deal with the issue. The cities of Manchester and Salford, let alone the towns of Stockport, Bolton, Wigan, Oldham, Rochdale and Bury aren't big and powerful enough to require a big and powerful charismatic leader - let alone made-up entities like Tameside and Trafford. I actually like the idea of the elected Mayor at the head of Greater Manchester, driving policy and having some vision to deliver it. The city region has been blessed by the stable double act of Sir Richard Leese and his chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein, but you cannot enshrine in the constitution of a city region for "remarkable civic leader who gets things done by hook or by crook". I don't look forward to the day when these very able men choose to do something else in their advancing years. They are virtually irreplaceable. But it is their success that has made the Mayoral issue a non-starter.

But who outside of Greater Manchester and outside of policy making knows of these two? When was Richard on Question Time last? When was he on Newsnight? If he had the office of Mayor for a city region of 2.5 million people he'd have power and clout to be on all the time. He has the right to be as high profile as the tedious Alex Salmond. And the point David Miliband was making was that these examples of good practice in the cities have the potential to reshape the narrative of national politics.

POSTSCRIPT - there was a low turnout in the Salford referendum, but there was also a yes vote. Seems like the politically active voted for another body that has no popular enthusiasm.

No comments: