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Introduction to the Report

The Localism Act (2011) made provision for the creation of directly elected mayors, subject to confirmatory referenda, in England’s largest cities. Referenda in some or all of those cities will take place in May 2012. Where the outcome is a ‘yes’ vote, elections will take place on 15th November 2012. In response to this development The University of Warwick has funded a Warwick Commissions into Elected Mayors and City Leadership. In turn, the Commission is funding a doctoral researcher (Clare Holt) to undertake a sequence of interviews with mayors, their officers and related experts, across the world, and so far that has involved 38 interviews in Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand as well as group discussions and a short ethnographical study. Matthew Maguire, a graduate student from the Department Of Political Science, Boston University, undertook interviews with four mayors from the State of Massachusetts.

The Commission set itself the following key question: “What is the role of elected mayors in providing strategic leadership to cities?” The purpose of the Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership is not to judge whether directly elected mayors are the right system of democratic governance as this will be a matter for electors. Rather, the Commission sets out the background to this development in terms of the history of local government, considers why elected mayors have risen to the surface of the political agenda now, and explores what existing mayors and their officers, and opponents, consider the advantages and disadvantages of directly elected mayors; in effect, the optimal scale and structure for the offices of elected mayor if one or more city votes to adopt the system. The Commission is strictly party and candidate neutral and has been open to the deliberations to any stakeholder with an interest in the subject of elected mayors.

The history of mayoral referenda is not great: 27 of the 42 so far undertaken have resulted in a ‘no’ vote with the turnout averaging 29 per cent but varying from 10 per cent to 64 per cent. (1) That level of disinterest is also manifest in the number of responses to the government consultation on elected mayors for twelve cities in England: only 58 replies were received and only 19 came from the public (DCLG, 2012).

Although elected mayors remain an insignificant minority of governance systems in the UK (only 3 per cent [12 of 410] of local authorities have adopted them since the possibility was made available through the Local Government Act of 2000) it is clear from the case of London that an elected mayor offers political possibilities that traditional party political governance systems do not (Swinney et al, 2011). Indeed, five reasons (Borraz and John, 2004; Randle, 2004) are often cited for the rise of the elected mayor:

  1. A response to the rise of the network society that otherwise disperses responsibility and a demand for greater accountability from political leaders.
  2. An attempt to reinvigorate democratic politics and civic engagement in the face of apparently widespread political apathy.
  3. A localist and decentralising reaction against the rise of the centralising power of the state or super state (European Union).
  4. The realisation by some local politicians in certain areas that they can make the most impact through elected mayors, not traditional party politics.
  5. The return of ‘personality’ to the political agenda in place of depersonalised party systems.

The intent of this Commission has been to evaluate the case for elected mayors from the perspective of strategic leadership. In other words, it is not designed to consider alternative electoral systems or how to ensure elected mayors become more popular, but to set out the advantages and disadvantages of elected mayors in advance of the referendum to be held on 3rd May 2012 in those cities covered by the legislation.


Research Questions

To this end the most important initial research questions are set out below but the most critical is ‘What is the role of elected mayors in providing strategic leadership to local authorities?’ In effect we sought to evaluate the strategic role that elected mayors have had. We did this by considering their effects in the UK and more widely in the world where appropriate. The effectiveness of the London Mayor is already the subject of much debate (Sweeting, 2002a, 2000b), as are the differing governance and allegiance systems posed by the mayoral model (Copus, 2004; Fenwick, et al, 2006; Travers, 2002), the importance of local conditions and characters (Campus and Pasquino, 2000; Game, 2003; Rallings et al, 2002; Rao, 2003) and while the role of elected mayors in Northern Europe (Goldsmith and Larsen, 2004; Wollmann, 2000, 2005) and the USA is already relatively well covered (DeSantis and Renner, 2002; Elcock and Fenwick, 2007; Frederickson et al, 2004; Hambleton and

Sweeting, 2004; Judd, 2000; Leach and Norris, 2002; McNitt, 2010), there is little on multi-comparative international approaches (Gough, 2006) and even less within political systems that closely resemble the UK’s political system, such as parts of Australia [NSW and Northern Territory] (Grant et al, 2011; Sansom, 2012), New Zealand, Canada or the commonwealth more broadly.

What, exactly, should mayors be concerned with? Leach and Wilson (2000) suggest that four priorities should dominate the focus of council leaders: maintaining political cohesion within the council to secure decision-making – though this is less important for mayors because of their independent political mandate and relative independence from party discipline; providing strategic direction; representing the authority to the outside world; ensuring the execution of decisions made.

Contemporary council leaders and elected mayors, according to Stoker (2004: 12/13) both have greater individual decision-making powers than previous local government systems and this is particularly the case for mayors who can require the council to reconsider its decisions. Equally important, a mayor’s decisions can only be overturned through a two thirds majority vote by the council and mayors cannot be removed by the council or ruling group for the four years of their tenure. The fifth role that Stoker (2004: 16) highlights is the representation of their place – the face of the place – while the sixth is the role of accountability and visibility; unlike many council leaders, most mayors seem to be known to their public. (2)

The Commission recognises that the precise nature of the historical and cultural context may make a significant difference to the answers given to the primary question, thus the comparative nature of the research with the focus on those areas not already adequately covered in the extant research. Hence we focused not just on directly elected English mayors but also on elected mayors in Canada, Australia and New Zealand because their local governance systems bear some clear resemblance to that in England. We also took a limited look at the most important US city mayors recognising that the latter system is very different from the one considered here (Pimlott and Rao, 2002).


Subsidiary Research Questions

1. Do elected mayors make any difference to their local areas?

2. How do we know what difference elected mayors make?

3. Why is the debate about elected mayors surfacing now?

4. Is the primary role of elected mayors one of:

a) Strategic leadership?
b) The co-ordination of different interests?
c) Cutting through red tape?
d) Mobilising coalitions of the willing?
e) Generating a local identity?
f) Helping drive economic growth?

5. What difference does the local/national context make?

6. What are the different models of elected mayors and their associated local governance systems – and what difference do they make?

7. What definition of leadership does the elected mayors debate imply?

8. What is the connection between elected mayors and the more general decentralisation debate?

9. What is the connection between elected mayors and the apparent decline in the popularity of traditional political parties?

10. What is the role of charisma and personality in the election of mayors?

11. What is the link between elected mayors and elected police commissioners?

 

Methodology

We realised that gathering data from a sample of the world’s elected mayors is both difficult, time consuming and expensive. To that end we secured the services of a PhD student (Clare Holt) who had the experience and ability to start the research almost immediately and undertook 38 interviews in the period between November 2011 and February 2012. Matthew Maguire, a graduate student from Boston, also undertook four interviews in the USA in February 2012 with elected mayors from the state of Massachusetts. Given the complex nature of the topic we used a qualitative approach to the interviewing supplemented by an array of more quantitative data generated from a trawl through the published literature and the unpublished reports of the various elected mayors. The method involved allowing the interviewees to ‘tell their story’ and generated some extremely rich narratives of leadership, as well as proving a cathartic experience from the majority of those interviewed. We then adopted the narrative analysis methods of Gabriel (2000, 2004a, 2004b) to interpret the data.

Following publication of this report, Clare will plan a series of short ethnographic periods with newly elected mayors (assuming at least some are elected) and follow them for their first few weeks in office to assess their experiences in the light of the existing theory. All quotations, unless otherwise attributed, are drawn from the research interviews. Before we explore the narratives of the mayors, their officers and their opponents let us consider the history of local government to frame the current developments.

 

Statistics:

  • 42 interviews
  • 6 council leaders
  • 11 mayors in England
  • 7 mayors in Australia, Canada and New Zealand
  • 4 in the United States

Professor Keith Grint

T
he Localism Act (2011) made provision
for the creation of directly elected
mayors, subject to confirmatory
referenda, in England’s largest cities.
Referenda in some or all of those cities will take
place in May 2012. Where the outcome is a ‘yes’
vote, elections will take place on 15th November
2012. In response to this development The
University of Warwick has funded a Warwick
Commissions into Elected Mayors and City
Leadership. In turn, the Commission is
funding a doctoral researcher (Clare Holt)
to undertake a sequence of interviews with
mayors, their officers and related experts,
across the world, and so far that has involved
38 interviews in Australia, England, Canada
and New Zealand as well as group discussions
and a short ethnographical study. Matthew
Maguire, a graduate student from the
Department Of Political Science, Boston
University, undertook interviews with four
mayors from the State of Massachusetts.
The Commission set itself the following key
question: “What is the role of elected mayors
in providing strategic leadership to cities?”
The purpose of the Warwick Commission on
Elected Mayors and City Leadership is not to
judge whether directly elected mayors are
the right system of democratic governance as
this will be a matter for electors. Rather, the
Commission sets out the background to this
development in terms of the history of local
government, considers why elected mayors
have risen to the surface of the political agenda
now, and explores what existing mayors and
Introduction to the Report,
Professor Keith Grint
12 Introduction to the Report
their officers, and opponents, consider the
advantages and disadvantages of directly
elected mayors; in effect, the optimal scale
and structure for the offices of elected mayor
if one or more city votes to adopt the system.
The Commission is strictly party and candidate
neutral and has been open to the deliberations
to any stakeholder with an interest in the
subject of elected mayors.
The history of mayoral referenda is not great:
27 of the 42 so far undertaken have resulted
in a ‘no’ vote with the turnout averaging 29
per cent but varying from 10 per cent to 64 per
cent.1 That level of disinterest is also manifest
in the number of responses to the government
consultation on elected mayors for twelve cities
in England: only 58 replies were received and
only 19 came from the public (DCLG, 2012).
Although elected mayors remain an
insignificant minority of governance systems
in the UK (only 3 per cent [12 of 410] of local
authorities have adopted them since the
possibility was made available through the
Local Government Act of 2000) it is clear from
the case of London that an elected mayor offers
political possibilities that traditional party
political governance systems do not (Swinney
et al, 2011). Indeed, five reasons (Borraz and
John, 2004; Randle, 2004) are often cited for
the rise of the elected mayor:
Summary Report of the Third Warwick Commission 13
1) A response to the rise of the network society
that otherwise disperses responsibility and
a demand for greater accountability from
political leaders
2) An attempt to reinvigorate democratic
politics and civic engagement in the face of
apparently widespread political apathy
3) A localist and decentralising reaction
against the rise of the centralising power of
the state or super state (European Union)
4) The realisation by some local politicians
in certain areas that they can make the
most impact through elected mayors, not
traditional party politics
5) The return of ‘personality’ to the political
agenda in place of depersonalised party
systems.
The intent of this Commission has been to
evaluate the case for elected mayors from the
perspective of strategic leadership. In other
words, it is not designed to consider alternative
electoral systems or how to ensure elected
mayors become more popular, but to set out
the advantages and disadvantages of elected
mayors in advance of the referendum to be
held on 3rd May 2012 in those cities covered by
the legislation.
Research Questions
To this end the most important initial research
questions are set out below but the most
critical is ‘What is the role of elected mayors
in providing strategic leadership to local
authorities?’ In effect we sought to evaluate
the strategic role that elected mayors have
had. We did this by considering their effects
in the UK and more widely in the world where
appropriate. The effectiveness of the London
Mayor is already the subject of much debate
(Sweeting, 2002a, 2000b), as are the differing
governance and allegiance systems posed by
the mayoral model (Copus, 2004; Fenwick,
et al, 2006; Travers, 2002), the importance of
local conditions and characters (Campus and
Pasquino, 2000; Game, 2003; Rallings et al,
2002; Rao, 2003) and while the role of elected
mayors in Northern Europe (Goldsmith and
Larsen, 2004; Wollmann, 2000, 2005) and the
USA is already relatively well covered (DeSantis
and Renner, 2002; Elcock and Fenwick, 2007;
Frederickson et al, 2004; Hambleton and
Sweeting, 2004; Judd, 2000; Leach and Norris,
2002; McNitt, 2010), there is little on multicomparative
international approaches (Gough,
2006) and even less within political systems
that closely resemble the UK’s political system,
such as parts of Australia [NSW and Northern
Territory] (Grant et al, 2011; Sansom, 2012),
New Zealand, Canada or the commonwealth
more broadly.
What, exactly, should mayors be concerned
with? Leach and Wilson (2000) suggest that
four priorities should dominate the focus
of council leaders: maintaining political
cohesion within the council to secure decisionmaking
– though this is less important for
mayors because of their independent political
mandate and relative independence from
party discipline; providing strategic direction;
representing the authority to the outside
world; ensuring the execution of decisions
made.
Contemporary council leaders and elected
mayors, according to Stoker (2004: 12/13) both
have greater individual decision-making
powers than previous local government
systems and this is particularly the case
for mayors who can require the council to
reconsider its decisions. Equally important,
a mayor’s decisions can only be overturned
through a two thirds majority vote by the
council and mayors cannot be removed by the
council or ruling group for the four years of
their tenure. The fifth role that Stoker (2004:
16) highlights is the representation of their
place – the face of the place – while the sixth is
the role of accountability and visibility; unlike
many council leaders, most mayors seem to be
known to their public.2
The Commission recognises that the precise
nature of the historical and cultural context
may make a significant difference to the
answers given to the primary question, thus
the comparative nature of the research with
the focus on those areas not already adequately
covered in the extant research. Hence we
focused not just on directly elected English
mayors but also on elected mayors in Canada,
Australia and New Zealand because their
local governance systems bear some clear
resemblance to that in England. We also took
a limited look at the most important US city
mayors recognising that the latter system is
very different from the one considered here
(Pimlott and Rao, 2002).
Subsidiary Research Questions
1) Do elected mayors make any difference to
their local areas?
2) How do we know what difference elected
mayors make?
3) Why is the debate about elected mayors
surfacing now?
4) Is the primary role of elected mayors one of:
a) Strategic leadership?
b) The co-ordination of different interests?
c) Cutting through red tape?
d) Mobilising coalitions of the willing?
e) Generating a local identity?
f) Helping drive economic growth?
5) What difference does the local/national
context make?
6) What are the different models of elected
mayors and their associated local
governance systems – and what difference
do they make?
7) What definition of leadership does the
elected mayors debate imply?
8) What is the connection between
elected mayors and the more general
decentralisation debate?
9) What is the connection between elected
mayors and the apparent decline in the
popularity of traditional political parties?
10) What is the role of charisma and
personality in the election of mayors?
11) What is the link between elected mayors
and elected police commissioners?
14 Introduction to the Report
Methodology
We realised that gathering data from a sample
of the world’s elected mayors is both difficult,
time consuming and expensive. To that end
we secured the services of a PhD student (Clare
Holt) who had the experience and ability to
start the research almost immediately and
undertook 38 interviews in the period between
November 2011 and February 2012. Matthew
Maguire, a graduate student from Boston,
also undertook four interviews in the USA in
February 2012 with elected mayors from the
state of Massachusetts. Given the complex
nature of the topic we used a qualitative
approach to the interviewing supplemented by
an array of more quantitative data generated
from a trawl through the published literature
and the unpublished reports of the various
elected mayors. The method involved allowing
the interviewees to ‘tell their story’ and
generated some extremely rich narratives
of leadership, as well as proving a cathartic
experience from the majority of those
interviewed. We then adopted the narrative
analysis methods of Gabriel (2000, 2004a,
2004b) to interpret the data.
Following publication of this report, Clare will
plan a series of short ethnographic periods
with newly elected mayors (assuming at
least some are elected) and follow them for
their first few weeks in office to assess their
experiences in the light of the existing theory.
All quotations, unless otherwise attributed,
are drawn from the research interviews. Before
we explore the narratives of the mayors, their
officers and their opponents let us consider
the history of local government to frame the
current developments.
Summary Report of the Third Warwick Commission 15
42 interviews
6 council leaders
11 mayors in England
7 mayors in
Australia, Canada
and New Zealand
4 in the United