THE Government’s dream of having elected mayors running four Yorkshire cities is under threat amid apathy from politicians and voters.
Barely three months before voters in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Wakefield decide whether they want to be led by a Boris Johnson-style leader, no significant “yes” campaigns have been established to press the case for change.
The situation in Yorkshire is in stark contrast to Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol where strong campaigns in favour of an elected mayor have been running for months and which are thought the most likely places to return a “yes” vote in May.
Cities Minister Greg Clark sought to generate momentum behind the idea yesterday as he announced that in cities which vote “yes” the first mayors will be elected on a “super Thursday” in November, the same day as the first Police Commissioners are chosen.
“The world’s great cities have mayors who lead for their city on the national and international stage, attracting investment and jobs,” he said. “We believe that mayors can help English cities achieve their full potential too.”
But few senior politicians in Yorkshire will declare their support for the idea, which many MPs and councillors oppose, leaving a major question over who will lead a “yes” campaign.
The Government has been criticised for failing to spell out what extra powers the new mayors will be able to wield, and in a sign of widespread apathy there are not even any significant “no” campaigns running in the region yet.
One senior local government figure in the region said: “Across the parties there seems to be little enthusiasm for this. To be frank it is expected that apathy will win the day.
“Should a ‘Yes’ campaign get off the ground then the parties may start their own local ‘No’ campaigns, but the leaders, along with most high profile people, will want to stay out of this.”
The referenda in May fulfil a Tory manifesto pledge, with Ministers arguing that elected mayors offer stronger, more accountable leadership. But council leaders in Yorkshire, along with many MPs, have always opposed any change. Sources close to Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles were yesterday forced to deny that even he was sceptical of the idea, insisting he was a “big fan” of mayors.
Councillors report a mixture of apathy and negativity about the idea on doorsteps, while party leaders are concerned that if they publicly back the change it could seen as an effective declaration of interest in the post.
Former cabinet minister Lord Adonis, a cheerleader for elected mayors, said while people in Birmingham bring up London’s successful mayoralty when discussing the idea, in Yorkshire the comparator is Doncaster, which has had a more chequered history.
“Campaigns have to be driven from the bottom up and in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol there are thriving yes campaigns within the city,” he said. “No one has yet approached me from any of the Yorkshire cities but there’s still three and a bit months to go.”
Although Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew backs an elected mayor for Leeds, Kris Hopkins, Tory MP for Keighley, said he would be at the fore of a “no” campaign in Bradford, rejecting the idea of a city mayor governing over Keighley and Ilkley.
Becoming an MP “has only hardened my resolve to help achieve an overwhelming vote against the proposal”, he said.
David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, is also firmly opposed, while Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said there was “no interest” among voters in Sheffield.