IF the forecasts are accurate, voters in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool will back the creation of elected mayors in May – and then return to the polls six months later to choose an individual to be entrusted with the leadership of their respective city.
They will do so following high-profile campaigns that have championed the positive benefits of elected mayors, such as Boris Johnson in London, and how this role can fill the void created by the demise of regional development agencies.
Contrast this pro-activism with the apparent apathy here in Yorkshire where there is little sign of campaigns at present, particularly for the concept, in Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Wakefield – the four cities due to host public votes on elected mayors in just over three months time.
What chance is there of local people engaging with this issue when political leaders on these four authorities are not even willing to indicate publicly their party’s voting intention?
Of course, the leaders concerned will contend that they have more pressing priorities, such as the implementation of spending cuts and measures to stimulate the economy.
Furthermore, their reluctance to become involved could stem from the Government’s poor handling of this issue – including a failed attempt by Ministers to pre-empt public votes by introducing shadow elected mayors.
However, if Cities Minister Greg Clark is to be believed, this policy is still a means to help the cities concerned fulfil their potential with clear leadership.
That said, it is difficult to see how any elected mayors in any or all of the four Yorkshire cities going to the polls will have any credibility if the policy is backed by a small proportion of the electorate, and also at a time when voters in Doncaster will have a separate referendum on whether to abolish the post following a decade of political acrimony and strife in the town.
Given this, it is paramount that local politicians, and also community campaigners with no party affiliation, come forward to start a debate that is already gathering momentum in cities regarded by many as economic rivals to Yorkshire’s great conurbations.