Readers, devolution in England part by part is once again in the spotlight.
Firstly, Greater Manchester, and all 10 councils that fall into its area (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan) is having an executive mayor imposed on it, even after the people of Manchester voted against having an elected mayor back in 2012, and without the consent of the electors within Greater Manchester. Only one of the ten boroughs in Greater Manchester, Salford, voted to have an elected mayor, and the turnout in that referendum was a dreadful 18%.
The cities and boroughs whose people voted against having elected mayors (instead of council leaders) in 2012 had good reason to reject the idea: in Britain, directly elected mayors can just by themselves appoint a cabinet tailored to their own personal whim, and this cabinet is more likely to represent that mayor's interests (and corporate interests whom that mayor is friendly with) than those of the electors (and the council's make-up, for that matter). The exclusive powers mayors have, and often abuse (especially in the case of Greater London Mayor Boris Johnson), end up overriding local democracy to the detriment of the people. Boris' closure of many fire stations in London, even when that endangers lives, without a vote in the GLA, and the fact he can licence wasteful projects of his (like the 'garden bridge' over the Thames) without a GLA vote or a referendum, is a key example of the problems of having directly elected mayors in Britain. Councils, instead of having the usual leader and cabinet system or a mayor and cabinet system, should instead have committee systems which mean that key decisions are actually taken democratically and not by cliquey cabinets. So should the House of Commons-the Cabinet system needs to be abolished as it is clear that the Secretaries of State, who are appointed only by the Prime Minister and not chosen by MPs, have too many reserved powers and usually do not act in the interests of the British public but rather those of the Establishment.
Local devolution as a whole is progressive and necessary to reduce the level of central control in the UK, and to give people a fairer voice locally. However, it needs to be done carefully so that both rural and urban areas can benefit from it-and historic boundaries and places should be respected as well. I do not believe, for example, the combined city regions idea (https://psin.uk/reports/devo-city-devolution-report/) is a good one-not only will many cities that were former county towns be left behind (such as Derby and Nottingham), but also increasing urbanisation in Britain even further will have detrimental effects on our environment and on local identity, which need to be protected. (http://www.theinformationdaily.com/2014/12/01/16-english-cities-could-be-lost-in-the-gaps-of-the-devolution-jigsaw) In fact I personally believe Britain would be better off overall in important ways had 'Greater London' and other oversized 'metropolitan boroughs' (e.g. Tameside; there is not even such a town as Tameside!) had never been created, and if more reasonably sized and more manageable councils such as Middlesex County Council, which actually covered a real county, had been allowed to remain.
Local and fair devolution across the UK is important to us, but we need to all fight for it and vote for it-it will not simply come to us on a plate.
I finally wish you all season's greetings-my blog will return in the new year!