An Elected Mayor for Liverpool?

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A new campaign has been launched by local figure Liam Fogarty today for an Elected Mayor in Liverpool. If nothing else, such a move will perhaps encourage a healthy debate about the democratic process and accountability, and perhaps more.

Today has seen the emergence of a campaign for Liverpool to have an Elected Mayor. The first step if this campaign is to succeed is to obtain enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the matter - no small challenge in itself.

The campaign, headed by ex-BBC presenter Liam Fogarty, claims that in Liverpool 'too many decisions are taken by invisible committees and un-elected officials. Important projects fail to materialise, yet no-one takes responsibility.'

'Only an Elected Mayor can provide the vision and leadership needs at this crucial time in the City's history,' we are told. This, of course, is a reference to the much-trumpeted events in Liverpool of 2007 and 2008, which certainly require great cultural leadership, skill and planning if they are to succeed.

The democratic deficit
But it is also claimed that an Elected Mayor would re-involve people in democratic process. They would be more likely to vote and become engaged in local decision-making if there were such a person. Perhaps this is true.

Whatever, there is a serious case for any sort of initiative which takes local political involvement more into the community. It would probably be worth a try - though interestingly, so far only 12 towns and cities of those which have considered having an Elected Mayor have actually gone along that option in the end.

Previous mayoral campaigns
This is not however the first time that there has been a campaign for an Elected Mayor. In 2000 the media group Aurora took up the cudgels, publishing with other organisations a book entitled Manifesto for a New Liverpool [see also 'cultural leadership', above], in which the case was made for such a civic leader.

Only time will tell whether this is an enduring and positive initiative. This time as far as I can see there is a strong pro-cities but anti-regional sentiment there too, and that second position (pro-cities is fine, anti-region in my books isn't) convinces me less than does the case for democracy at grass roots.

But for the time being I suppose it's enough to feel heartened that people are energised to do what they believe is best for Liverpool, putting heads above parapets and saying what they think. Now that really is democarcy in action.

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Having long been a passionate advocate of fundamental change in the nature and structure of governance for Liverpool and the metropolitan region, I feel that there is real merit in considering a system that is led by a directly elected (and by dint of this, accountable) leader/ mayor.

Most cities around the globe (especially the more successful ones) have some form of mayor/ mayoral system, or at least an arrangement where the leader is selected by the citizens of the metropolis. It is efficient, clear and more democratically appropriate. Vitally, it is also clear who is responsible for the direction the city is going in.

Some of the reaction to the proposal by Liam Fogarty that we should explore such a system for Liverpool have not only been hysterical, but so obviously self serving and basically incorrect.

Sadly, it is my experience that many politicians, especially local councillors do not aspire to this type of structure for those very reasons. Right now any mediocre scuzbag can craft quite a successful political career under the cloak of anonymity provided by a 'party' system. As well as this anonymity for career progression, it also makes it impossible for an individual to be dislodged by voters when their ineptness, sleaziness or downright corruption becomes obvious...so if you don't like the member for housing, or social services... tough, you have to vote out the whole party they represent... with all the attendent considerations and consequences that this implies.

A mayoral candicacy in my view would also help to redefine upwards, the quality of leader we could get in the city, as it is extremely easy to identify and eliminate those whose only skills are in obfuscation, hyperbole and winging it by making unfounded assertions (brazen, shameless lying I think this is called in political circles!).

The wool can't be pulled over the whole electorates' eyes when the keen light of in depth analysis is undertaken. The voracity of spurious claims to 'devotion', say, or a knowledge in a certain area would also be explored and tested, rather than simply reported when made as part of some P.R buff. So its benefits outway any potential for corruption, which is inherent in the current, and any other system we may chose anyway.

The potential for us to develop a city focus rather that a 'regional' construct is also extremely attractive, much more so than the potential benefits of having a mayor, as it gives Liverpool far greater potential for revival and growth. This is particularly aposite for Liverpool, given the city's negative experiences under the 'North West', which, we must remember, has been in place since the end of WWII, and has been growing every decade.

The whole intelectual mindset behind the proposals for 'regionalism' in England has been crafted in an ideological environment that sees value in 'command and control' and sees no value in enterprise and civic identity.

Proposals for the 'North West' are a perfect example. If they would have progressed in the manner envisioned, then it would have been the death knell for Liverpool. One only has to look at the natural bias and presumptions in media broadcasting to see how damaging having our 'services' provided by another city...we still have the 'service' but we get no value, to say nothing about being able to craft our own sector, strengthen our cultural industry and market our culture and city.

The whole basis of the 'North West' is essentially the proposition that our city should be 'managed' from down the road. Imagine that being taken across the board!

So Hilary, if I may be so rude as to disagree with you on your own site, I don't sympathise with your point about being 'pro-city' whilst being anti 'anti-regionalist', the two propositions are fundamentally incompatible. Manchester is a competitor city to Livcerpool just as any other city around the world is. One must remember that when the cities where at their most competitive (i.e. when they were both globally significant) their economies where virtually symbiotic.

The organisational mindset that sees value in diktat, of 'Manchester can do this' and 'Liverpool can do that' (usually meaning Liverpool playing second fiddle, relegated to provincial no-mark) is mired in approaches that are obsolete in a 21st century world...and politically, have never had a basis in reality. So please, as much 'anti regionalism' as possible from everyone?

On the composition of any metropolitan focus that should be developed (topped by a mayor or not) then it would have to constitute more than that provided by simply returning to the old Merseyside County Council arrangments, say. The old metropolitan county never did properly accommodate Liverpool proper, leaving out the likes of Halton and Elesmere Port, always vital parts of the metropolis, whilst throwing in St Helens and Southport...two proud and distinct..and INDEPENDENT Lancashire towns. Those two towns had never had any symbiosis with the city... all suffered as a result of the forced marraige.

'Liverpool, the metropolis' has an easily identifiable logic, for the purposes of building a unified unit for governance and strategic urban development and it is this that must form the basis for any focus that transcends current council juristiction. it is especially important to go 'metro', rather than 'regional' with regards to where devolved powers that currently reside in Westminster and Whitehall should return; same goes for wresting back the control currently assumed by all those corrupting NGOs, whose powers should sit with those who are democratically elected.

We also have a much wider, 'natural region' of cultural / community affiliation encompassing North Wales that we should regalvinise for some things. It provides an extra advantage for us. The Liverpool Bay Area is an excellent tool, in addition to the tight, metropolitan region.

Being shoehorned into the anonymity of 'northwest' is a nonsense for our proud and internationally known metropolis.

A last point in this short response; the importance of identity.

For goodness sake, we have to use the name that we are all proud of for branding and international identity, Liverpool. What the hell is 'Merseyside'... and more importantly with regards to global potential, where the hell is it?

So a proud, city focused arrangement of governance that caters for and encompasses 'Liverpool proper', just as in London and New York... and, maybe, headed by a directly elected and accountable mayor. Compete with Manchester and the rest of the North West in exactly the same way in which we expect to 'compete' with Birmingham, Leeds and Cincinatti. If we can look at these issues and opportunities, if the city can control its own potential destiny, then we may be able to move on up, indeed we may even 'be somewhere' once again.

Excellent website by the way Hilary.

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