A Mayor for All Seasons?

[Originally posted on Manchester Policy Blogs/Whitehall Watch]

‘Mayors’ seem to have become the default answer of many in the political elite to the problems of local government and governance in the UK, or more specifically England. Linked to the idea of ‘English devolution’ as a answer to Scottish ‘home rule’ this has become a heady brew. But maybe it’s time to ask some sober questions about this project of ‘Devo Manc’, at least in terms of the proposed system of government for Manchester.

My argument is, simply put:

  • elected mayors are based on assumptions about what Archie Brown has called ‘the myth of the strong leader’;
  • they are a ‘presidential’ style of government that is ill-suited to our ‘parliamentary’ political tradition, especially at local government level;
  • in Manchester specifically it risks undermining the delicate balance that has been so successful with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority;
  • its’ imposition without a referendum is a fundamental error by the political elite that may well backfire.

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The Creation of HMRC from Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise – Double Trouble?

Given Labour’s announcement today that it will carry out a review of HMRC if elected in May, I thought it might be useful to publish this little paper I wrote about the creation of HMRC for an IPPR seminar 10 years ago. It will be useful background for all those out there trying to understand how HMRC got to where it is today. The final section about ‘challenges’ facing the merged organisation has turned out to be reasonably prophetic. Continue reading

Breaking the Democratic Ties That Bind Us?

My colleague Dave Richards and Martin Smith have just published an excellent piece in The Political Quarterly attacking what they call the ‘demand side’ explanation for the declining engagement in party and formal politics – falling turnout, declining party membership, falling big party share of the vote, rise of insurgent ‘anti-politics’ parties like UKIP, etc.

The ‘demand siders’ essentially blame the electorate, who have been affected by socio-cultural changes like ‘click and collect’ instant gratification and rampant individualism to demand more and more from our political system whilst being unwilling to foot the bill. This creates an ‘expectations gap’ which politicians can’t possibly fill in a world of scarce resources and hard choices, but that doesn’t stop the people blaming the politicians and ‘the system’ or ‘the establishment’, however unfair that may be. Matthew Flinders, for example, goes so far as to call the electorate ‘decadent’ in their expectations. Continue reading

Louise Casey “decks” Rotherham MBC – is this really the way to do it?

Did Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council need sorting out? Almost certainly. Was Louise Casey the right person to do it? Also almost certainly not. The result might be right, but the way it has been achieved is just as much an example of maladministration as what’s happened at Rotherham, even if the consequences are less devastating. And if this “process” is allowed to stand English Local Government as a whole will come to regret it. Continue reading