Recently in Elected Mayors Category

If you value it, vote for it So David Cameron says he'd like to see UK referenda on local taxation and much else; whilst another Conservative says they want to do away with regional development agencies - though local councils may thereafter join up to reinstate these if they wish. But some of us recall the damage done to northern parts by the abolition in 1986 of the Metropolitan County Councils, and the energy invested later on in having to re-create the regional development agenda. Will local democracy really be enhanced by taking decision-making away from elected councillors?

Read more about Political Process & Democracy.

Your views are welcome.

In Praise Of Politics

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Election Night (tables, small) 05.4.26 057.jpg The benefits of modern democracy which we in the U.K. enjoy are diminished by the media when they invite us to confuse the real thing with synthetic 'political entertainment' concocted by those who then 'report' it. At a time when cyncism about politics is rife, people need to know about the realities of political involvement, so they can make informed judgements about whom they wish to support.

LouiseEllmanAdoptionMtg05.4.15c.jpg I’ve just returned from the Labour Party conference in Manchester. Personally, I was impressed. The Prime Minister and Chancellor each spoke with great authority and conviction about what politics means to and for them, and I think it would be fair to say their orations resonated clearly with what the large majority of those attending believe and were looking to be affirmed.

My belief is that the Labour Party, whatever its blips and foibles, stands for a way of life which is fair, progressive and ambitious for everyone’s future. Other major parties in the U.K. can make their own case, but there is no doubt that those who seriously subscribe to these alternative credos also believe that their politic represents a way of life which makes sense to some people. I am content to acknowledge this - and where necessary to ‘take them on’, as Tony Blair urged in his speech. No doubt willingness to contest the political territory would apply in reverse for other parties, too.

Political debate about the future
The Labour Party national conference is one of the largest and without a doubt one of the most inclusive conferences in Europe. Women and men, first-time attenders and cabinet ministers, delegates of all ages, ethnicities, faiths and walks of life, meet in the course of that event as equals to bring their richly diverse experience and expertise to the issues of the day.

And the same applies to the democratic political process in the U.K. on a wider scale.

Election2005CampaignMK&JN,Sudley1.jpg The critical point is this. Where citizens are prepared to give their time and other personal resources to engaging in debate about the future of our country (and that of the globe), they should be respected for having the courage and conviction to do so.

Of course there are caveats to this general position. When opposing parties permit the debate to become unpleasantly personal, or when they step outside the boundaries of decency (as for instance the British National Party does frequently) they diminish fundamentally the democratic process and thereby lose the right to respect and engagement in that process.

Synthetic ‘news’
So what do we make of the media coverage this week?

Frankly, it has not so far been consistently of the best. I have no problem about considered critiques, or even criticism, of the political offer – that’s what politics is about – but I have plenty of reservations about lead stories concerning what Cherie might or might not have muttered to herself, or about the future prospects of John Reid and Gordon Brown, following the synthetic televised gruelling of a supposedly ‘representative’ (and, for its purpose, woefully small) focus group.

This is the media making the news, not reporting it…. Not an unusual occurrence, but one which does not deserve the headline reporting these matters were given. There are serious issues at stake, and the wider public needs to know about them. Such trivial issues are entertaining, but they don’t take us very far in understanding what the underlying politics is all about.

Politics as commitment
Election2005CampaignOffice(chaps).jpg Perhaps this needs to be said loud and clear: Many people are involved in politics with no expectation of personal reward. Most professional politicians go the extra mile and more (if they don’t, they deserve the abrupt termination of their political careers which is likely to follow).

Politics on the ground comprises hours of envelope stuffing and telephone calls; it requires rainy Saturday mornings in surgeries in what are now called challenging contexts; it involves knocking on the doors of not-always-appreciative strangers; it requires digging into one’s own pocket far more than filling it. And, critically, it demands the courage and conviction to stand up and say what one believes, and to take the reputational consequences.

And, most of all, decent politics at every level is underpinned by hope for the future – the belief that people can be persuaded to one’s view of what could be.

Politics as entitlement
I disagree fundamentally with the politics of the right, but I agree that sometimes the questions posed by right-wing politicians are valuable pointers to important issues which require resolution. I also accept that, within the bounds of decency and respect for other decent people (a requirement of us all), those who promote such right-wing positions have an entitlement to do so.

Political debate from the beginning of time has been the fairest way to decide who has the best ideas about what should happen, and who should be given the power to make that come about.

News, Politics or Entertainment?
If the media want to tell stories about what Cherie might have said to herself, or about a synthetic, manufactured event around the future of Gordon and John, no-one should stop them, self-serving of media pundits and distracting from serious debate though these stories are. Indeed, perhaps we are all complicit in this, at least insofar as the media would say we read this stuff and don’t challenge it.

But let’s at least ask that spurious ‘political’ stories be reported under the heading of Entertainment, not News; and let’s try to ensure that proper political reporting is delivered in ways which mark it out as Politics properly defined.

Politics is a difficult and sometimes even dangerous game; it needs, and democracy itself needs, the best people and the best efforts we can muster – and this in turn requires a modicum of underlying respect for those who still choose to make the effort.

Hope not cynicism
Election Night (Lpool MPs) [smaller] 05.4.26 051.jpg If there were a better way to run modern societies than democratic politics, someone would have invented it by now. At a time when the victory of cynicism over respect for engagement in the political process has probably never been greater, we, the public, damage ourselves as well as the politicians if we don’t insist at some level that politics is fundamentally about hope for the future; and that political media-created 'entertainment' and democratic politics are different things.

Mayoral 'shield' (small) 06.9.5 001.jpg The campaign for a debate about elected Mayors promotes ideas of democratic involvement and public accountability. It is for these reasons, not as a short-hand way to achieve city-regions, that this campaign should be encouraged. Even if elected Mayors become the norm, towns and cities will still need major regional input if they are to be effective players within Britain.

It's not reallly news that some major cities have problems pulling things together to achieve progress; and nor, to be frank, is it news that Liverpool often seems to be amongst that number.

This is why I believe people should support the campaign for a referendum on a Mayor for Liverpool. For the referendum to happen would require 5% of those elegible to vote in the city to support it... not many one may think, but actually quite a proportion to raise in Liverpool, the city with the lowest election turn-out in the country. In my view, almost anything which encourages people in places like Liverpool to think positively about voting is a good thing.

Elected Mayors as housekeepers
It doesn't however follow that, because moves to consider elected mayors are supported, that wide-ranging powers for such persons should necessarily be the order of the day. Cities like Liverpool need a named 'responsible person', who can bang heads together to get things done, and who must be prepared to take the flack if things don't work. This person could be seen as taking the role of housekeeper, ensuring that things happen as they should, and that, for instance, streets and parks are clean and safe, events occur to schedule and budget, bids and proposals are submitted on time and well prepared etc.

It would be important for an elected Mayor to have defined, and achieved a consensus on, for instance, what is his / her role, and what is that of the City Chief Executive / Directorates, and of elected Councillors.

Not city-regions
Bioscience Liverpool 06.7.30 001.jpg Nor should it be assumed that an elected Mayor would take the lead role in the mooted city-regions. There may well be a role for city-regions as sub-regions, but that debate is still emerging and it is not for me convincing. In the end an excessive emphasis on city-regions not only loses the 'hinterland' of any metropoils, but also ignores the reality of regional infrastructure.

No toen or city in the UK outside London is on its own large enough to plan major transport, business development, or scientific investment. The things can only properly be addressed at regional level; as indeed they are in most parts of Europe.

Accountability
City regions and their merits or otherwise are a different debate from the current discussion about elected Mayors. If there's now a decent debate about elected Mayors, that will be a good start. Maybe it will strengthen interest in the democratic process. And if it also encourages the idea that those who claim to give the lead require support, but must also be prepared to account very openly for their performance, that will be an excellent bonus.

Going round in circles 90x113  020aa.jpg Liverpool as a city is claiming much for the forthcoming celebratory years of 2007 and 2008, but concerns exist on many fronts about the present. There is more to serious development of cultural involvement than simply 'community programmes', admirable though that is. So what sorts of models of citizen and 'stakeholder' integration are being developed, building on the experience of other cities which have managed to engage people at all levels? And will these work?

Oh dear. We don't seem to have got off to a very good start in Liverpool this year.

The end of 2005 saw the demise of several large-scale Liverpool projects, such as the trams project, and before that, in 2004, the embarrassment of the so-called 'Fourth Grace' (possibly a vainglorious misnomer? nobody I know thought there were even three 'Graces' until someone made that name up, not long ago). And in the Summer we had the debacle of the Mersey River Festival, only now being reported...

Then, to round off 2005, there was the extraordinary fuss over the shifts at the top of our political and administrative power base.

Capital of Culture 2008 now under scrutiny
And now questions are being asked about our preparations for Liverpool's European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008. These have been becoming more urgent over the past few weeks - there were concerns expressed when Liam Fogarty decided to raise the issue of an elected mayor once more - but since the New Year the story hasn't really been off the front page.

Well, that there are questions is unsurprising, both for particular reasons and because there is always a period before these huge events, as far as I can see, when Questions Are Asked. What is more worrying, however, is the difficulty some actual citizens and 'stakeholders' have experienced in learning what's happening and / or in getting answers.

Who takes day-to-day responsibilty for 'stakeholders'?
I leave it to others to pursue the specifics of this alarming situation; my own concerns are quite complex, though I do have to say it would be helpful if they were being addressed at the practical day-to-day level... one problem seems to be identifying anyone who can take on issues of normal operational accountability. But there you go.

For me, and I suspect numbers of others, the real issue is, where do we go from here? As a long-time resident of Liverpool with strong roots in the city I know it's really important that we make a big success of 2007 and 2008, the 800th anniversary of our City Charter, and then our European Capital of Culture Year.

What some people haven't the foggiest inkling about, however, even after serious attempts to find out, is how they can bring their ideas to bear to help this to happen. And that perhaps has occured also in other European Capital of Culture locations, which begs a question about what models of social and artistic inclusion work best, and where.

Protagonists for City-Regions are often much less sympathetic to the rationale for the English Regions as such. But perhaps it's all a matter of differential scales. City Regions could well choose, to their mutual benefit and that of their hinter-lands, to collaborate on some of the much bigger strategic things without fear of damage to historic and local identities.

The debate about City-Regions vs. English Regions shows no signs of resolving. The recent launch of a campaign for an Elected Mayor in Liverpool (and some other towns and cities) has if anything exacerbated the differences between those who support regionalism as such, and those who support city-regions within England, or presumably, come to that, anywhere else.

Whilst there are obviously some areas where people may not ever agree, I do however believe there are a number of areas of common cause between the protagonists for each 'side', if the issues are looked at in a particular light.

The meaning of 'regionalism'
For those who take a strongly anti-regional line the main problem seems to be that they perceive this as inevitably favouring one stronger city over other cities in the region... indeed, they may even take the view that there is no such thing as a region, as a way to circumvent such a perspective entirely.

In this view the real issue is the power of one place over others, and the expectation that, given half a chance, this place will take unfair advantage, at significant cost to other towns and cities nearby.

On the other hand, to at least some people who would support a regional persepctive alongside a city-focused one (and there are few regionalists who don't also favour the healthy growth of cities per se), the underlying issue is connectivity. Who will make the case for, e.g., good road and rail connections between different cities within the region and, even more importantly, the way that very large centres of population - especially the metropolis - connect with the region at all?

Taking this perspective, there may be surprising commonalities even with towns and cities in other regions. For instance, Birmingham shares with the northern cities the issue of getting traffic up and down the country - and has in fact begun exploring solutions to this problem with them.

Size is the basic issue
Evidence elsewhere in Europe suggests that a population of between 7 and 10 million can be effectively self-sustaining in terms of producing all the requirements for modern society. But no U.K. city outside London is of this size - which means that English cities must necessarily be inter-dependent in some respects. For instance, (genuinely) Big Science can never happen just with the resources of one city, any more than can 'Big Medicine / Technology' and so forth. There are plenty of win-wins in inter-city collaboration for science and industry, just as there are endless reasons why the more ambitious aspects of tourism are often best promoted on at least a regional basis (see quote in New Start magazine from the English Regional Development Agencies).

But what the size issue doesn't mean is that cities have to lose their identities, or that there must be 'regional centre' cities wicih will effectively dictate to all the other places in a region what they may and may not do. This maintenance of identity and self-determination provides one of the strongest cases for elected mayors or similar - provided always (a big proviso) that such leaders are well-informed, brave and sensible....

Unique identities, shared strengths
This is a rather optimistic view, but maybe there will come a time when people generally can see that there is indeed strength in commonality when it comes to the big things (massive inward investment, the knowledge economy, large-scale infrastructure etc.), but that with this does not need to come loss of identity for individual places and smaller areas within a geographical location such as a 'region' of England. Rather the opposite.

Perhaps it's a matter of confidence. When we, smaller-city citizens across the nation, are confident that our own patch is well-recognised and well-defined, it will be easier to agree with our neighbours on shared strategies for the bigger things. But how to develop that confidence from where we're at now is, however you look at it, a challenge and a half.

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.

Liverpool's Big Dig is supposed to be the way forward for investment in the city centre. In theory this is great. In practice the abject failure to insist on '24 hour' operation is a serious threat even to those businesses (and workers) already here. Edict No.1 in the 'Regeneration Rulebook' must surely be: when effecting to make progress, don't put at unnecessary risk what you've already got.

'How else is Liverpool going to resume its rightful place as a city meaning business?', asks Matt Johnson in today's Business Post of the city centre's Big Dig.

Well, the Big Dig is supposed to be a route to increased business in the city centre; and at the moment it's exactly the opposite.

Clearly, the intended outcome is that there should be more commercial and other enterprise activity within the city, but they're going about it a very strange way. If we're not very careful, there will in fact be less such economic activity in the immediate follow-on from the Big Dig, not more. Footfall is already dropping alarmingly, and not all the cries of 'Wolf!' from traders are sham - as of course Matt Johnson readily confirms.

Yesterday I was in the city centre mid-morning and later in the afternoon. On both occasions diversion signs and cones out-numbered visible Big Dig workers by a huge ratio. Not much sign of urgent activity to be seen even in the middle of the working day - and of course none at all that I have observed in the evening or during the night.

The City Council may be saving money for itself (and thus it would argue for its rate payers) by not engaging people to work at night - or even it appears particulary energetically during the day - but this will cost us all dear.

Reduced trading will mean fewer jobs; so some people will go out of work as a result of this - hardly a cost saving for them as individuals.

The whole Big Dig strategy, from what I can see, has developed without appreciating the most fundamental - and most unobserved - regeneration rule of all...... Don't damage (more than absolutely essentially) what you already have in the attempt to 'improve' things for the future.

If the city powers-that-be can require commercial deliveries to be made in the centre outside business hours, why can't they apply the same logic, only more so, to the diligence with which they deliver the Big Dig? Come on chaps, this is supposed to be a 24 hour city!

Yet again, we must ask: Who's in charge? and who is answerable to the citizens and businesses of Liverpool and their by now doubtless deeply puzzled potential future investors?

When and how does a Big Town become a City? And, just as importantly, how does a Great City ensure it will never seem to be just a Very Big Town? What part does cultural leadership and vision play in this transition? We take a look at Liverpool...

Imagine all the people – and all the things they’d do….


Cities are centres of communication, learning and complex commercial enterprises; …. they focus and condense physical, intellectual and creative energy. They are places of hugely diversified activities and functions: exhibitions and demonstrations, bars and cathedrals, shops and opera houses. I love their combination of ages, races, cultures and activities…
Richard Rogers Cities for a small planet (Faber, 1997, p.15)

When and how does a Big Town become a City? And, just as importantly, how does a Great City ensure it will never seem to be just a Very Big Town?

Doubtless we all have our first-off answers to this slightly strange question; but at base we would probably agree it’s not simply Size that matters. Quality rather than just Quantity is what counts in the metropolis status stakes.

So what does lie at the heart of a city, especially a great one such as Liverpool? What exactly does define its soul?

For me, and I suspect for many others as they ponder such questions at this pivotal point in Liverpool’s development, the critical aspect of our city’s renaissance must be a focus on what is most creative: both what we already have, and what we can forge for the future.

But this is in no way just a plea in disguise for ‘more arts funding’. Rather, I want to propose that Creativity in the City be seen as the critical factor which defines us and holds more promise than anything else for what Liverpool could become.

Thus, the real challenge is to shape and nurture a vision of our future which engages the entire creative process, the arts, the sciences, the full spectrum of the intellectual infrastructure and more…… For there is also a Plus Factor in all this to which we shall return and which we neglect at our peril.

What a modern, thriving, thrusting city needs more than almost anything else is continual recharging and renewal, a culture which challenges what is already known and done – however splendid that culture may be historically.

A city which delivers well the known and acknowledged needs of its citizens will also be one which looks to produce creative synergy with sometimes unanticipated outcomes. There can be no standing still in the search for excellence in the city.

So, to formalise the initial proposition, a Great City is one which

¨ does not just celebrate its past, but works hard to create it own future;
¨ does not simply curate its history and acknowledged culture, but seeks always to support the living arts and to ensure that benefit and creative process evolve from them;
¨ does not offer handed-down knowledge alone for its citizens, but strives ceaselessly to promote and engage the processes of learning and discovery which produce new understandings and insights across the spectrum of intellectual and creative endeavour.

Put thus, we see that Liverpool, more than many other cities, is well-blessed. We have in our heartlands an abundance of internationally recognised organisations and institutions which seek insofar as their resources and vision currently permit to deliver just the requirements listed above. The fight to ‘save’ our theatres and world-class symphony orchestra has been long and hard but, after almost decades of uncertainty, it seems we may indeed have won. Our universities and colleges permit comparison with many others, and are in significant respects outstanding. Our architecture and cathedrals are world renown.

But this inventory alone is not enough. The Great City demands more of itself than satisfactory audits of institutions, however important. Great Cities engage and nurture the best creative practitioners that can be had, put together in organisations which reciprocally appreciate and enhance the skills and traditions which are thereby brought together. Great cities value their indigenous artists and intellectuals but also welcome to their lead organisations both students and distinguished visiting practitioners who will inform and challenge current beliefs and thinking. And so through these same organisations Great Cities facilitate and even thrust upon us thriving collectives of artists, scientists, intellectuals, power elites of all sorts who can and will not accept on our behalf that which is routine or can be taken for granted.

A city’s creativity must not however remain solely civic. For it to mean anything it has also to be communal. The synergy of the city’s formal creative enclaves must be engaged and by mutual consent brought to bear on the lives of the people. This is the Plus Factor to which reference was made earlier.…..

And here lies the fundamental challenge for Liverpool at the beginning of the new Millennium.

Our city, Great City though it is already in many ways, is also a fragile, vulnerable city which is only now repositioning itself after many years of decline. The poverty of experience and expectation of many of those who have grown up and live in this city is part of the urban tragedy of our times. For too many here, Liverpool is the only place they know, the small-community-defined comfort zone from which they must collectively emerge if they are to demand the standards which those with wider and more privileged experience already expect. For too many of our citizens, impoverished both materially and ‘culturally’ through accident of time and place, the leap to acceptance and engagement in creativity in its fullest sense is a step to ‘high culture’ too far.

It would be very serious act of decontextualisation and of course entirely improper to suggest that perhaps there are communities in Liverpool ‘suffering’ from a ‘cultural deprivation’ which somehow diminishes civic pride or reduces the people’s determination to see their city great again. I hope therefore that I can avoid any charge of cultural / intellectual imperialism in pointing to a number of what I see as significant discongruities in the cultural fabric of this city – discongruities which I believe must be recognised and addressed by anyone who seeks to offer Liverpool civic (and therefore cultural) leadership.

But significant discongruities there are, disconnections of understanding between civic excellence in the cultural / intellectual infrastructure and socio-economic well-being, or between artistic / creative engagement and personal fulfilment. For instance, like parents everywhere, many here regardless of their own background would dearly wish for their own children to achieve success in the formal education system; yet these same people often express considerable antagonism towards the students who live in flats and bedsits in their midst and who thereby help to keep local shops and businesses viable – and who as graduates could with the right persuasion stay on in our city and help to revitalise it.

Likewise, many would see the flagship arts organisations of our city as indispensable elements of our civic identity – yet few expect to patronise these same bodies personally. And how many people in Liverpool know that the eponymous University has to its credit impressive numbers of Nobel Laureats? Indeed, how many people know anything much at all about what goes on in the research institutions of our city’s universities, or anything about the significance of this research in the regional economy or indeed on the world scene?

And so we could go on; for there are, to put it starkly, parts of our local communities where to ask even these questions would be to understate massively the alienation from mainstream understandings of culture and creativity. There is a palpable disinclination amongst too many of our young people beyond a certain age to lose their ‘cool’, to allow themselves to become engaged, let alone excited, by positive, imaginative and exciting ideas and activities. There is a fear by those in some parts of our communities that any bending towards the mainstream will result in cultural engulfment, that others do not respect or understand their particular traditions and beliefs. Above all, there is sometimes still apathy and an unwillingness to trust in a more accepting and better future.

This then is the true challenge which now faces the Great City of Liverpool.

Our civic leaders of the future will need as an urgent priority to deliver a cultural and creative concordat, a bringing together of traditions and modes of understanding which allow the many rather than just the few to translate hope into action – and this I believe can be achieved only through the pursuit of excellence, the engagement of the very best of what is creative in all the fields of endeavour we have considered.

We need architects and sculptors who regain the public sphere for community and performance; actors, artists and musicians who draw on their many cultural traditions to bring people together and enhance their lives; teachers who capture the imagination and ambition of their charges; community workers and volunteers whose enthusiasms, local knowledge and skills are welcomed and engaged by the civic authorities; research workers and academics who build on, and see the local economic benefits which may accrue from, the distinguished record of our institutions of higher learning.

It will be a task of breathtaking proportion to sustain in their own right, and simultaneously to bring together, the historically disempowered communities of our city and the hitherto so-called ‘elitist’ cultural institutions which history has endowed to us.

It cannot be said too clearly there are many already on all ‘sides’ who seek excellence without compromise or fear, who want and will for the city a common understanding alongside outstanding achievement across the spectrum of artistic and intellectual endeavour. But individuals of goodwill can reach only so far on their own. Cultural nostalgia, lack of resources (human, material and civic), entrenched, sometimes limited bureaucracies, the inertia of years of low expectations, cannot be overcome by individual goodwill alone. All these factors are real and enormous barriers to progress.

The challenge for Liverpool’s first Elected Mayor will be to achieve a very fine balance in pursuing world-class excellence for our city across the artistic / generically intellectual board, whilst also seeking to achieve maximum creative community synergy and engagement and maintaining personal political credibility – a tall order indeed, but one which I believe those in our amazing, deeply culturally blessed, Great City will support and embrace.

(Chapter in) Manifesto for a New Liverpool, 2000 (published by Aurora, The University of Liverpool and Space)
by
Hilary Burrage
Chair, HOPES: The Hope Street Association