. Today's Yorkshire Evening Post flags up the start of a consultation process on whether Leeds should have it's own directly elected Mayor. This is one of those issues which I swing both ways on because while I am in favour in principle of the maximum amount of direct democracy I also see the potential problems of creating yet another layer of bureaucracy and concentration of power in the hands of a dwindling executive.
As is rightly pointed out the experience of directly elected mayors across the country is something of a mixed bag. Leeds City Council already has an executive leader/cabinet system of running and if a directly elected mayor was created then there would still be a ceremonial Lord Mayor though it is hard to see what function they would have in comparison to one with a voter mandate.
It is said that this would take the role of Mayor away from party politics but I don't see this as being the case and in any case the place where the system is most effective ie, London is the place where it is most tied to party politics. The less said about Hartlepools selection of H'Angus the Monkey the better; however, this does point to the fact that realistic fact that the role of an elected Mayor just becomes another electoral battlefield between the parties.
Logically, the cabinet/leader system makes Leeds one step away from needing an elected Mayor because the current system currently skews the link somewhat between direct electoral accountability and the leading representatives of the council. Whether the scheme is a success really does actually depend on who ends-up in charge. Doncaster, where the council and Mayor seem to be at permanent odds with each other, points to another danger of the system; namely that leadership becomes impossible in a battle of wills between two, both electorally mandated, arms of local government.
What the DEM system does is actually create a quasi-American separation of executive and legislature at a local level; which is fine as long as the system has the required built-in checks and balances. If the right person is in charge then an elected Mayor can be a huge force for good where as the wrong person can make the whole exercise a complete waste of time and money. As I have said, the situation in Leeds makes the democratic case for direct electoral accountability of the executive persuasive; however, I remain to be 100% convinced it is the right solution to this issue.
Also, a slight news announcement of my own; as those of you who Tweet will know I now own the domain name for this blog so watch for some c-c-c-changes in the coming few days. A new site and a new look are on the way along with a possible broadening of content.