The following comment is from FridayFive: Stimulating Relational Thinking. More at http://fridayfiveblog.blogspot.co.uk/
“A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.” James Freeman Clarke, American theologian and author (1810-88)
Yesterday, ten British cities held a referendum on whether to establish directly elected mayors, in place of the system whereby local councillors choose their leader. So far, only one of the first five cities has said yes, albeit with low voter turnout.
Advocates of change argue that the current system lacks accountability and is prone to party political squabbles; most city dwellers don’t even know who the leader of their council is. A directly elected mayor would be an advocate for the city, accountable to the electorate as a whole, with a city-wide mandate to deliver change. Opponents say this will only increase the costs of local government, centralise power in one person, and move away from consensus politics.
However, since cities are increasingly competing with each other nationally and internationally for investment and tourism, then it could be argued that a champion is needed – someone who is charismatic, ambitious and entrepreneurial, at arm’s length from party bosses. Boris Johnson, the front runner in yesterday’s election for London Mayor, typifies this kind of leader.
From a relational angle, a stronger relationship is established between the voters and their elected mayor, with the potential for greater transparency and accountability. Also, by rallying the whole population around common goals for the city, the mayor can build commonality and strengthen community relationships. However, with more powers available, there’s the risk that a directly elected mayor may also downgrade relationships with other elected councillors and override minority concerns.
An elected mayor can help foster a sense of local identity, pride and industriousness; but the drive to promote the city’s interests in a competitive market must never lead to antagonistic relationships with other localities. In a relational society, competition between cities or regions should always be tempered by a commitment to regional and national solidarity. Let’s hope any elected mayors will have the wisdom to strike that balance.