Elected Mayors: The Wrong Solution to the Wrong Problem

Catherine Durose

Only one eligible voter in every three participated in the local elections in May 2012, the lowest turnout since 2000 and despite a context of austerity and swingeing public spending cuts. The recent elections for Police and Crime Commissioners saw turnout slump to a record low for a national poll, averaging at 15%. To quote a Guardian editorial, ‘lack of engagement is the most eloquent of all the political messages…. and one that the parties need to take most seriously. Voters are fed up, not fired up’. Collapsing turnout is perceived as part of a wider decline in traditional forms of political participation, this trend has been labelled as a ‘democratic deficit’ and it is this ‘problem’ that elected mayors are seen as offering a fix to by as simplifying local democratic accountability and offering greater visibility for citizens.

In the referenda held in May 2012, the rejection of elected mayors was near unanimous. The average turnout was low at 32% with over 60% of those who participated, voting for the status quo. The turnout can be, in part, explained by the uncertainty and confusion amongst the electorate about what they were being asked to vote on (the powers which elected mayors would have was, and remains, unclear). But, the size of the ‘no’ vote suggests, at the least, a lack of enthusiasm about electing more politicians. Indeed, voters in Hartlepool have now decided to scrap the position of a directly elected mayor after three terms of office.

Bristol is an exception, by a narrow margin of 7%, it was the only one of the ten cities to vote in favour of an elected mayor. Yet, the Bristol mayoral election, held on 15 November 2012, only received a turnout of 27.92%. Of the fifteen candidates who contested the elections, only one was female and one was non-white. The newly elected mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, whilst depicting himself as an independent, has previously sat as a Liberal councillor and contested a seat at two General Elections for the Liberal Democrats.

In thinking about why citizens are ‘fed up’ with local democracy and why the idea of elected mayors was a turn-off, perhaps we should take a look at those contesting and winning these elections. As in Bristol, mayors do not represent a radical departure from the professionalised political class or indeed the mainstream political parties which citizens are increasingly dis-engaged from: Boris Johnson in London, Ian Stewart in Salford and Peter Soulsby in Leicester, are all former MPs; Joe Anderson in Liverpool is a former Leader of the council.

I would argue that elected mayors are the wrong solution to the wrong problem. The currently proposed fixes in the constitutional reform agenda, including elected mayors, to deal with the ‘democratic deficit’, are clearly not producing changes which citizens are interested in engaging with. Perhaps this is because the assumption that underpins such fixes – that citizens are apathetic about politics – is incorrect. If we challenge this thinking, then many of the proposed fixes seem like the wrong solution to the wrong problem. If we instead recognise that many people feel that representative politics doesn’t represent them or indeed engage with the important issues that affect their everyday lives, then a different problem with a potentially different solution emerges.

One means of responding to a decline in traditional forms of political participation is to offer different opportunities to engage democratically. Broadening the range of democratic engagement fits with re-thinking what citizenship means: it’s less a ‘status’ which people possess and more a ‘practice’ that people participate in. Looking at data on levels of different forms of civic activity in the UK suggests there is a healthy base of existing participation and an appetite for more. The Hansard Audit of Political Engagement suggested that 14% of people are already active, but 51% felt that getting involved could make a difference; 14% of these were considered as ‘willing localists’, people who were not actively involved but were willing and likely to do so locally.

But how can we tap into this latent demand? First, local authorities and other public bodies need to stop ‘second-guessing’ citizens.  Recent research highlighted that whilst two thirds of local councils felt that the community would be unmotivated to participate more locally, less than 20% of them had formally assessed communities’ interest.  Second, we need to acknowledge that a lot of current opportunities for ‘participation’ replicate some of the problems of local representative democracy by acting as ‘mini town halls’ offering only tokenistic consultation of citizens, failing to recognise Sherry Arnstein’s seminal observation that “there is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process”. Third, to look for alternative ways to mobilise citizens and communities. I recently attended Locality’s annual convention – the organisation now recruiting and training 500 senior community organisers, along with a further 4,500 part-time voluntary organisers, over four years spent working with community host organisations. For Locality, this initiative is about ‘building a movement’. Speaking to organisers, they see their challenge as mobilising social action and generating a sense that change is possible. I have seen the impact of organising first-hand in Chicago, and it was inspiring to hear the impact the programme is already making there. If an elected mayor is to make a difference to local democracy, it won’t be as a visible manifestation of Politics, it will be about embracing and supporting these new social movements.

Catherine Durose is Senior Lecturer and Director of Research in the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham.  Catherine’s research focuses on the changing relationships between the state, communities and citizens.

Local Government and the Democratic Mandate: An Outdated Model?

Martin Stott

Local government could never be described as fashionable, yet today there is more talk than ever about the importance of ‘the local’.  However, this has converted into less, rather than more, freedom to act locally.  Whitehall’s desire to control is strong, as the current freeze on council tax rises demonstrates.  Local government hasn’t suffered as much at the hands of Whitehall as the NHS, where the current reorganisation follows countless previous ones – none of which have any clear rationale other than to undo the actions of a previous Minister and ‘prove’ that the new Minister is in charge.

The reason that local government has remained untouched by similar reorganisation is because it has one priceless asset that the NHS has never had.  An independent democratic mandate.

But that’s the rub.  Nothing drives Westminster politicians wilder than others challenging their supposedly democratic right to rule.  But local government did and still does.  Hence it’s abiding unpopularity in Whitehall and Westminster.  The excuses are many and varied – ‘inefficiency’ (when was democracy ever efficient?), ‘cost’ (let us try and recall local government equivalents of Whitehall’s IT and defence procurement fiascos, amongst others), ‘postcode lotteries’ (isn’t that a subjective term for local decision-making?), ‘poor quality of elected members (remind me which political parties put up these candidates?).

In the end though, the reality was summed up for me by a member of Tony Blair’s Cabinet, himself ex-local government, who when I asked him once over dinner how many local authorities he thought there should be in England, replied firmly “one”.

The government’s plan for fragmentation, competing foci of accountability and localism without democracy (‘localism lite’) has continued apace.  Examples of this include:

  • Police Commissioners.  Elections in November 2012 will confer a certain cloak of democratic legitimacy but with a few exceptions, their jurisdictions will have little connection to existing democratic jurisdictions.
  • The NHS.  It’s hard, even now, to know what the NHS reforms will really mean in practice, with local authorities having been ‘given’ responsibility for public health – as if environmental health, trading standards or waste management had nothing to do with the subject already.  And will GP Commissioners engage effectively with local authorities about the health of their populations when their accountability remains to Whitehall?
  • Schools.  Not long ago, local authorities were deliverers of education from 4-18, however this is now disappearing with the introduction of academies, foundation schools, free schools and the like.  The mantra is ‘freeing schools from local authority control’, but this means that the schools will have no direct democratic link with their localities.
  • The planning system.  The right of individual property owners to develop their land was nationalised under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.  The process of granting or refusing ‘planning permission’ was then delegated to local authorities.  Brick by brick, the Localism Act, and the Infrastructure Planning Commission and its successors have removed the foundations of democratic local determination.
  • Elected Mayors.  The argument for mayors is simple.  A single point of accountability for things that go wrong – or right – in a locality.  The problem is that giving a single person a lot of power can be a recipe for corruption, and doesn’t allow for the nuances, ambiguities and consensus-building that is so important in local democracy.

Despite all this, by and large, local government has risen to the challenges of the last two decades.  Gone are the command and control attitudes – the diverse ecology of local public service provision has made a new way of working essential and local government has found itself sharing responsibility rather than working alone.

There remains a distinct division of opinion in local government between the ‘local authority as service provider’ view and the ‘local authority as community leader and local voice’ perspective.  The two aren’t necessarily in conflict, but the rise of the customer has led to a view in some quarters that service provision is all.  High quality value for money public services are a very important part of what local government offers.  But if that was all it offered, why both with the democracy bit?

There are plenty of companies delivering high quality public services efficiently, but there is a gap in the market for local leadership, the championing of ‘place’, the focus for the expression of local democratic legitimacy.  Sadly the trend seems to be in the wrong direction as, rather than bolstering local government, its powers and responsibilities are being stripped.

Martin Stott was Head of Environment and Resources at Warwickshire County Council until the autumn of 2011, when he concluded a 25 year career in local government.  He has recently become an INLOGOV Associate.

Why the No-Vote was Right for Birmingham

Dr. Andrew Coulson

What a relief to wake up on Friday morning, 4 May 2012, and know that Birmingham will not have a directly elected mayor.  It was a most ill-informed referendum. The media, the business community (both Birmingham-based and national) and the government campaigned in favour. But the case against was hardly made at all until very close to the referendum, so there was little real discussion of what the new post would actually involve, or its advantages and disadvantages.

If it had gone ahead, it would have been the most divisive administrative change ever to hit the West Midlands. For London advocates of an elected mayor, it was presented as a new leader, able to speak for the whole West Midlands. That is not how it would have been seen in Dudley or Wolverhampton. The new mayor would also, probably sooner rather than later, have fallen out with the councillors elected to represent Birmingham wards, whose democratic mandate would be at least as strong as his or hers. If the council was controlled by a political party different from that of the mayor, that would have been a given from the start. But even within one party, sooner or later there would have been disagreements.

The job was impossible – to take over everything that Birmingham City Council and to influence every other organisation or group in the city. So every parent who could not get a child into a school of choice would have come to the mayor. So would the relatives of every patient that could not be discharged from hospital because suitable care arrangements were not in place.  Or every young family with a housing problem. There is no way one person could respond to that level of pressure. It is hard enough to understand the different cultures of the city – North and South, inner city and suburban, the highly complex racial geography.  There is nothing to be gained from trying to run everything that happens in Birmingham through one person, since however much he or she tries to delegate the buck will stop there and people will know it and soon get disappointed and frustrated.

Some of those arguing in favour of a mayor have no faith in councillors, and conclude that the biggest challenges would face chief officers. They should look carefully at what they wrote: do they really believe in a democratic process in which all the politics runs through one person?  or is their agenda to try and take politics and choice out of local government altogether?

A mayor of Birmingham was presented as the same as or similar to the Mayor of London. But Boris Johnson has virtually no powers, and only one major service to run. That is why mayors of London get so involved in public transport, and have time to promote economic development, regeneration and the Olympics. The services that affect people day by day are mainly the responsibility of the London boroughs.  The proposal for a mayor of Birmingham should have been presented as comparable to the Mayor of Newham – and there could then have been a realistic discussion as to whether having one would make a difference and how a mayor of Birmingham would relate to the Black Country or neighbouring counties.

There were no safety valves. At least a Leader can be voted down by a vote of no confidence in the Council meeting, or at the AGM. The city could have been stuck with a disastrous mayor for four years – becoming the laughing stock of the whole country, and an object of pity, and with no way out.

So now the newly empowered Labour administration in Birmingham will have to demonstrate that it is more effective than a mayor can be. Not an easy task given the general lack of discussion of the difficulties a mayor would have faced, and when the previous administration has partly lived off balances, and run the head office capacity of its departments down to the bare minimum or less. There are bound to be crises and failures, and some very difficult decisions to be made. The good property is that Labour’s showing in Birmingham was so strong that the party is almost guaranteed office for four years.

The sad reflection is that a case can be made for a directly elected mayor, not of Birmingham, but of the West Midlands, either as the city-region defined by the seven metropolitan districts, or as the whole standard region including the four adjacent county areas. That would have made the West Midlands like Boris’ London, and the resulting mayor might have had sufficient clout in London to bring jobs and training opportunities to the region, deliver the investment needed in public transport and deliver the coordination between the regional arms and agencies of central government and local agencies and trusts.

Dr. Andrew Coulson is Lead Consultant on Overview and Scrutiny at INLOGOV,University of Birmingham, with wide experience of Overview and Scrutiny.  He has recently launched one of the first assessed qualifications on the subject.  His further research interests include partnerships and governance, economic and environmental strategies, and local government in Central and Eastern Europe.

A ‘no’ vote for city mayors does not have to shut down discussion on how local political leadership can be strengthened

Dr. Karin Bottom

Last week, ten English cities voted on whether  to alter the dynamics of leadership in their authorities and replace the current leader and cabinet formula with that of elected mayor, deputy and cabinet.  The rejection was almost unanimous, only Bristol registered a yes vote – but with a majority of less than seven per cent – and more than 60% of voters in Coventry, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Wakefield   prioritised the status quo above change.   To some this outcome was a surprise, yet  polls prior to the referenda were inconclusive at best and taken in conjunction with the uncertainty surrounding elected mayors, it is hardly surprising that the majority of the electorate chose to stay at home or vote no, average turnout being recorded at a particularly  low 32 per cent.

With a focus on what the office of mayor could do to regenerate cities  and enhance local democracy,  ‘yes’ campaigns were beset with problems from the  start, not least for the reason that pre election, the role of the elected mayor was to be broadly similar to that of council leader: specifics were to be negotiated after taking office and worryingly for some, a substantial amount of the role’s leverage would be the product of personality and an ability to maximise what are often termed as ‘soft’  powers.  Compounding these factors, the office’s confinement to cities – as opposed to regions – suggested that capacity for real change was somewhat more limited than proponents suggested.

Analysis in the aftermath of the referenda suggests that a number of factors contributed to the ‘no’ votes but it  is clear that the overriding sentiments within the electorate were uncertainty and confusion.  Voters were unsure about what they were being asked to endorse or reject and some argue that this explains why the   ‘no’ campaigns were particularly successful at tapping into and harnessing public sentiment.  Taken in the context of austerity, ongoing public service cuts and a generalised dissatisfaction with the political class, it is easy to speculate and suggest that the electorate was unenthusiastic about electing more politicians, especially when the nature of the role was unclear and guidelines for removing poorly performing mayors were minimal to say the very least: to many the office seemed nothing other than a risky and unnecessary expense.

Yet, the results on May 3rd should not shut down discussion on local political leadership. The mayoral model may have been rejected but the issue has not gone away; arguments for stronger more visible city leadership persist and the government has made it clear that it now sees the move towards elected mayors as incremental, cumulative and progressive: in this sense the debate continues.  Yet, now it might be useful to shift the focus somewhat and think about how leadership can be nurtured and maximised in the 339 non mayoral authorities in England because there is nothing to suggest that the qualities which comprise strong leadership sit only within the purview of  an elected mayor.  While  Joe Anderson and Ian Stewart take up their new mayoral posts  in Liverpool and Salford, they do so alongside 124 other English authorities which also underwent some form of political reconfiguration last week: it will be interesting to see  whether  the issues which catalysed the mayoral referenda will impact on future leadership dynamics in those local  authorities.

Karin Bottom is Lecturer in British Politics and Research Methods at INLOGOV, University of Birmingham.  Her core research areas comprise parties (particularly small and the BNP), party systems and party theory.  She is particularly interested in concepts of relevance and how national level theories can be utilised at the sub-national level.

Go Back to Committees – and Use All the Talent of Elected Councillors

Andrew Coulson

A recent centre spread in the LGC has the headline “Committee System may be Outdated, Councils Warned”, even though the option to return to government by committees is one of the main planks of the Localism Act and a central plank of Conservative and especially LibDem policy.

The research reported on, by Ed Hammond of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, reports that four councils are expected to make the change in May 2012.  There will also be some “hybrid” arrangements, such as that likely to come into effect in Kent, where advisory committees are given greatly strengthened powers, even though technically decisions will remain in the hands of individual cabinet members, and the cabinet, though that is not expected to meet very often.

Up to 40 councils are believed to be giving serious consideration to making the change, including some of those where there will be mayoral referenda on 3 May.  If those referenda are lost, some of these councils may well revert to committee governance in May 2013.

Why?  Because, as they see it, committees are much more inclusive than any other form of governance. They give a voice to all the elected councillors, and potentially bring to the table all their talents. They make it harder to take decisions in secret. They give councillors a means of putting into effect the commitments they make when they stand for election, and they keep council officers on their toes because they can never be quite sure what will happen when they attend a committee – even if most of the major changes that might be made to a report will have been agreed in the group meeting of a majority party beforehand.  They also allow backbench councillors to specialise, and provide a means to induct them into how council services are run. They develop leadership – many strong leaders emerged over the years from the committee system.

This is not to say that committees were perfect or are inevitably the best solution. They can, and often were, criticised – for being slow to make decisions, leaving it unclear who was responsible for decisions, and for sustaining silos (such as Education authorities) which at times seemed to have little involvement with other parts of the council.  The criticisms can be answered. The committee system can be fast, and keep confidences, when it matters. With a cabinet, or indeed an elected mayor, leadership is still distributed – with chief executives or chief officers often the real leaders. Silos can be broken down if there is the political will to do so. But none of this is easy, and there were plenty of disillusioned and frustrated councillors and officers in the past. All we can say with confidence is that no system is perfect and that each council needs to work out what is best for its own purposes.

There are different forms of committee systems, ranging from a single committee with important decisions taken in full council (as in a number of the present Fourth Option councils, with populations less than 85,000, who have never given up their committees) to the massively complex structures in some counties and metropolitan districts before 2000 which had committees or sub-committees for almost everything that a councillor could become involved in – over 50 in total in one case. No-one is proposing to go back to that.

There have to be means of dealing with cross-cutting issues, urgent business between meetings, the size of committees and sub-committees, how often they meet, systems of councillors’ allowances, and policy review, to take but some of the issues of detail that must be addressed. Scrutiny will for most councils remain a function that needs to be done, and there are different ways of integrating it into a committee system. Maybe there is much to be said for not rushing into making the changes, and learning from what is happening now.

A day workshop at INLOGOV on 6 July will present a balanced picture and facilitate a discussion of the pros and cons of making the change and the detail issues that need to be taken into account in any new constitution.  Several of the councils making the change will be represented or make presentations. Ed Hammond, the researcher who wrote the Centre for Public Scrutiny report, will speak.  There will be comment from the Local Government Association, and support from FOSIG, the group that represents fourth option councils.

It will provide a unique opportunity to listen to the enthusiasts for making a change, and cross question them, and to understand the alternatives, and the possible downsides,  and the need to address the detail.  More about this workshop, including a booking form, can be found by clicking here.

Dr. Andrew Coulson is Lead Consultant on Overview and Scrutiny at INLOGOV,University of Birmingham, with wide experience of Overview and Scrutiny.  He has recently launched one of the first assessed qualifications on the subject.  His further research interests include partnerships and governance, economic and environmental strategies, and local government in Central and Eastern Europe.

If Ministers want us to vote for mayors, why make it so hard?

Chris Game

Even allowing for all the undecideds and the “ooh-I’ve-not-heard-anything-about-it”s, opinion polls suggest that several, perhaps even most, of the ten referendums on May 3rd could produce Yes majorities for elected mayors. None suggest, though, that there isn’t everything still to play for. Why, then, are Government Ministers, who claim to want this potentially momentous change, making life so difficult for the Yes campaigners?

Two issues come up at every mayoral meeting: What additional ‘hard’ powers would a mayor in my city have? and How do we kick out one who’s no good? With the Localism Act offering little help, and Ministers even less, this blog attempts to provide some at least partial answers.

Powers were intended to be easy. In the original Bill, undefined additional powers – transferred ‘local public service functions’ – would go to mayoral authorities only. They were the bribe to get us to vote for the mayors that only false consciousness had prevented us realising we really wanted all along.

But the Lords crucially amended this bit of the Bill, enabling functions to be transferred to any ‘permitted authority’, provided the transfer “would promote economic development … or increase local accountability”.  The mayoral bribe had gone – replaced only by a thinly disguised code.

December’s Cabinet Office prospectus, Unlocking Growth in Cities, stated that cities wanting significant new powers and funding would “need to demonstrate strong, visible and accountable leadership and effective decision-making structures” –universally interpreted as having an elected mayor.

This document launched the Government’s policy of ‘City Deals’ – bespoke packages of new powers, projects and funding sources, negotiated with the leaders of individual cities, in exchange for an agreement to work with the Government, the private sector and other agencies to unlock these cities’ “full growth potential”.

It sounds encouragingly localist – until you realise the Catch-22.  Ministers want to negotiate individual city deals with elected mayors; they can’t say what any specific deal will comprise without knowing who they’ll be negotiating with; but voters, unless they know the likely content of their deal, are much less likely to opt for mayors.

Though inconvenient, this logic might just be acceptable, had Ministers themselves not completely ignored it in publicising early deals with one city still to elect a mayor and another outspokenly opposed to the whole idea.

Ministers could yet decide, as was hinted at before the Budget, to reveal some meaningful detail about the discussions already held with the leaderships of other referendum cities, but it now seems unlikely.  Yes campaigners, therefore, must make the most of the Liverpool and Greater Manchester deals that we do know about – by no means, as it turns out, too discouraging a task.

Liverpool’s city deal was announced on February 7th – the same day as the Labour Council, bypassing its electorate, took the decision itself to have an elected mayor who, once elected on May 3rd, would lead its implementation.

All involved insisted, however, that the deal was not dependent on the city having a mayor – which means that any city whose electors have actually voted for a mayor will surely expect to negotiate a deal worth proportionately at least as much as Liverpool’s.

Liverpool Council’s website headlines the deal’s additional economic development money as initially £130 million – “including £75 million of new money from government” – with the potential to grow to between £500 million and £1 billion.

Other goodies include: an Environmental Technology Zone, with the resulting growth in business rate income going to the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and five Mayoral Development Zones; a Mayoral Investment Board to oversee the city’s economic and housing strategy; and a Secondary School Investment Plan to build 12 new secondary schools.

Sceptics will, entirely reasonably, note the big questions here barely even addressed. How much of all of this is genuinely new money, as opposed to money that would have come to Liverpool anyway from existing or abolished funding sources?  How much of this city deal has to be shared with the city-region LEP? How much freedom of action will the Mayor have to do things that Ministers don’t like? And, of course, the perennial question of additional revenue-raising, as opposed to capital-raising, powers.

However, even to Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool FC, £500 million-plus is hardly loose change. Moreover, most of what relatively little criticism there has been of the package came, significantly, only after the announcement of Greater Manchester’s deal, whose ‘earn back’ tax provision – the first allowing local government to take directly a slice of national taxes – was rightly acknowledged as a genuinely ground-breaking policy innovation.

Importantly, Manchester’s is not a deal with the City Council, but with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) – the strategic authority for all ten Manchester boroughs, whose statutory city region status is clearly accepted by Ministers as having at least the strength and accountability of a city mayor.

Under the deal the GMCA will invest £1.2 billion in infrastructure to promote economic growth, and – the headline bit – will be able to earn back up to £30 million of the extra growth-generated tax revenues to reinvest in a revolving infrastructure fund, in which the money is returned on a payment-by-results basis.

The whole deal aims to create and protect a total of over 6,000 jobs, with other provisions – including devolution of the Northern Rail franchise, 6,000 more apprenticeships, a low carbon hub, and up to 7,000 new homes through a Housing Investment Board – detailed on the DCLG website.

Its total potential impact on the city and regional economy is huge, and, exceptional as the GMCA may be, this publicised deal has to be seen as a massive precedent, and, surely, a major addition to the Yes campaigners’ armoury.

Removal of mayors should also have been settled by now. In its Impact Assessment in January 2011, the Government asserted (p.9) that, if mayors were going to exercise additional powers and freedoms, the accountability regime should include a recall mechanism – to be introduced “at a later date … having considered the issue alongside proposals for recall for other public officials.”

It would have been useful had Ministers reminded voters of this pledge and given some vague hint of when the “later date” might arrive. Still, it remains Government policy, and the answer, therefore, to the question: “If we’re going to directly elect a mayor, how can we directly unelect a rubbish one?” is that, by the time the possibility arises, some recall mechanism should, as promised, be in place.

But what kind of mechanism?  The Warwick Commission Report on Elected Mayors seems to suggest that “an appropriate recall process”, enabling the removal of a mayor “in extremis”, might be one exercised through a no confidence vote by the full council (pp. 10,34). Which is not dissimilar to the Government’s current attempt to introduce a recall mechanism for MPs, controlled by other MPs, rather than by voters – and rapidly unravelling as a consequence, which probably explains why Ministers are keeping so stum about recall for mayors.

In what is supposed to be a major extension of direct democracy, “an appropriate recall process” would seem logically to be one in which voters are the key players. A set percentage of a disgruntled electorate sign a petition, and thereby trigger a recall vote in which those same electors are asked if they want their mayor to be recalled, with a Yes vote triggering in turn a by-election.

Finally, there is the in extremis issue. The Recall of Elected Representatives Bill – the one introduced, regrettably, not by the Government, but as a Private Member’s Bill by Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith – proposes that recall should kick into action not in extremis, but in any circumstances in which representatives lose the confidence of their electorate: if, say, they’ve acted financially dishonestly or disreputably, intentionally misled the body to which they’ve been elected, broken promises made in an election address, or behaved in a way likely to bring their office into disrepute (Clause 1(2b).

It’s almost certainly not what Ministers have in mind, but I bet it wouldn’t half boost the Yes vote on May 3rd and maybe even the turnout.

Chris is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political  leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.