LETTER: Blair's constitutional reform: devolution, mayors, people power

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The Independent Online
From Mr David Spilsbury

Sir: Tony Blair has raised the spectre of introducing directly elected mayors. To those with no experience of local government, the US model is very attractive. Direct elections seem so democratic: the people elect someone to take responsibility for all government of the local area. He (rarely she) then runs the services and is answerable to the electorate for their stewardship at the polls. Simple - but what about councils?

The American system is based on a presidential model at national and local level, whereas the British system is based on a representative model. The people elect councillors and MPs, and from their numbers emerge leaders, mayors, and prime ministers.

Directly elected mayors claiming an electoral mandate will not be answerable to councillors in the way they and group leaders are now. If the point is to avoid the embarrassment of a Derek Hatton or Ted Knight, how will they be prevented from standing as representatives of their local parties? Already, the selection of candidates for parliamentary by-elections is strictly controlled by the National Executive Committee.

This weekend's Local Government Conference at Birmingham will not be discussing directly elected mayors formally, yet they are the greatest threat to local government since Thatcher abolished the GLC and metropolitan county councils.

Yours faithfully,

David Spilsbury


7 February