Robert Hampton

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2nd May 2012

Having a bit of a Mayor

Tomorrow, Liverpool (or at least, the percentage of the electorate that can be bothered) goes to the polls to elect a mayor.

The campaign has been a fairly rum affair. One candidate pulled out the day after announcing his intention to stand, citing “dirty politics”. Two candidates have been arrested. One lives in Wrexham and is only eligible to stand thanks to a shed he rents in Wavertree. A showpiece mayoral debate at the University of Liverpool was cancelled because of fears that trouble would flare between rival sets of protesters outside the hall. Another debate became farcical after one of the candidates was thrown out.

With all that in mind, it’s hard not to sympathise with independent candidate Liam Fogarty when he calls for an end to “politics, Liverpool-style”.

The campaigning has been complicated by the fact that voters don’t seem to know what the new mayor will actually do. Fogarty, interviewed by Sevenstreets, said that the people on the street are expecting an “ambassador” for the city. That is one aspect of the job, but there is much more to it than that. He (and it will be a he, as shamefully none of the parties could find a female candidate) will have sweeping powers over a number of aspects of city life, with powers being devolved from central Government to the mayor’s office.

What powers the mayor will actually get, however, is not entirely clear. Liverpool City Council’s web site is vague on the topic. Polly Curtis, writing on the Guardian web site, points out that the Government has suggested that the powers will be “tailor made” for each area, and that it is for the mayors themselves to make the case for devolved powers. Cities minister Greg Clark told the Echo, “it will help propel the city’s economy and attract international investment.”

One thing Liverpool will definitely get is a new £130m investment package. According to Liverpool City Council, having an elected mayor was a requirement to obtain this funding. In other words, we were bribed/blackmailed (choose whichever one of those loaded terms fits your world view better).

I’m in favour of elected mayors, but this past month of politicking has not been as inspiring as I hoped it would be. At least we can be grateful that it hasn’t turned into a vacuous battle where personalities are prioritised over policies. Surely no great metropolis would stoop to such levels?