You may have heard that we’re going to be electing a mayor next May. Are you wondering what on earth that’s all about?
The whole idea was only agreed a couple of weeks ago, and it burst into life today with the biggest name yet putting themselves forward as a candidate. So I thought it was time for an ‘everything you need to know’ article…
Here’s what’s happening. As we all know, local councils run some public services, and the government runs others. Who runs what isn’t the same everywhere though. In London, for example, far more things are controlled locally, including the transport network. What this government wants to do is to ‘devolve’ more powers to other cities and regions that want them, and our area – Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – has negotiated just such a deal. As from next year, the county will be taking over aspects of housing, transport and major infrastructure from the government.
To run this, a new ‘combined authority’ of the seven Cambridgeshire and Peterborough local councils is being formed. It will be chaired by a Mayor, and it’s that position which has caused the most fuss. Many local politicians don’t want such a figurehead. They believe they’re quite capable of sorting it all out for themselves. You may or may not agree with them. However, a mayor is what we’re getting.
And we get to elect that mayor.
I think that a mayor could be a good thing, if we elect the right person. All of our councils have been run forever by a seemingly endless succession of middle-aged white men wearing suits, and it’s been inspiring nobody. And I write this as a middle-aged white man who occasionally wears a suit and would inspire nobody.
I’d bet that few readers know who the city council leader is. I’d bet almost nobody knows who the county council leader is. I’d like our dynamic region to have dynamic leadership, and I can’t see how passing it over to existing councillors is going to inspire current and future citizens to understand what’s going on, and even get involved.
With a mayor though? That might be different.
What do I want from our mayor? I’d like to see someone young, or someone female, or just a great personality. Someone from outside politics might be nice, but the politicians are doing their best to ensure that doesn’t happen, by requiring a ridiculously high ?5000 deposit. If the mayor is in politics already, they need to be able to work with politicians from other parties, so the whole thing doesn’t collapse into the usual tedious party-political point scoring.
The mayor needs to be a great communicator: as I wrote in the Cambridge Independent newspaper last week, it should be someone you stop to listen to when they’re on the radio. Londoners listen to Sadiq Khan, as they did to Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone. Can you imagine Londoners not knowing who their mayor is? Of course not. But there’s a danger of that happening here.
The mayor also needs to be a good listener. There are brilliant ideas available from the public to leaders who want to hear. The mess which the councils are making of the City Deal shows what happens when our leaders stick their fingers in their ears.
So, are we likely to get a mayor who meets a brief like that? The runners are just beginning to assemble, and happily, it is a possibility. But a major caveat: while it’d be nice to think the candidates start with an equal chance, if the voters of Cambridgeshire just vote with traditional party allegiances, whoever gets chosen by the county’s Conservative party will start as the runaway favourite. That’s just the county’s demographics: the Conservatives get more than half as many votes again as either Labour, the Lib Dems or UKIP, any of which could claim to be the county’s second most popular party. And an independent candidate hoping to challenge that lot will need almost impossible resources.
We do already have an independent candidate with deep pockets, however. Peter Dawe is a well-known local businessman who is self-proclaimed “founding father of the UK commercial Internet”. We will be hearing a lot from him, I’m sure. The Lib Dems appear to be taking the contest seriously, and have a candidate selection meeting coming up soon. Labour has already got candidates for its own election process, including Cambridge councillor Kevin Price, as well as Ansar Ali, Nik Johnson, Ed Murphy, Fiona Onasanya, Samuel Sweek and possibly others. I haven’t picked up any information from UKIP or the Greens yet, or heard of any other independents. Peter Dawe was a UKIP member, so maybe that party will support him.
Which leaves the Conservatives …and the Queen Edith’s connection. Today, to the surprise of many (although not quite so many around these parts), our South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen announced her intention to apply to be her party’s candidate. What’s more, she has approval from the Prime Minister’s office, no less, to simultaneously be an MP and to hold the Mayoral position.
Many of us around here have met Mrs Allen in the last two years: she has made the effort to attend community events such as the Queen Edith’s Community Action Morning, for example. She’s also made a big impression nationally, being voted “Newcomer Conservative MP of the Year“. Looking at the list of what I want from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor, she ticks possibly all of the boxes. And that’s something I never expected to see. Will there turn out to be any other candidates as good as this? We shall find out.
I’ll produce a couple of updates on the mayoral election here between now and next May, and if there are hustings events, I’ll be amongst those pushing for one to be held locally. Watch this space.
For more local writing on the mayoral election, and lots of good videos to watch, there’s another excellent article as usual on Antony Carpen’s blog.