Leadership when it is needed most
If ever there was a moment which showed the power of political leadership in a place, it was the aftermath of the horrific Manchester concert bombing this week.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham stood shoulder to shoulder with city council leader Sir Richard Leese on the steps of the town hall – providing direction, calling for unity and decrying those who pedal terror.
They offered community leadership and cohesion at its best at the moment Manchester needed it most. The city has been here before and emerged stronger – and so it will again.
It was just the first test for one of our new metro mayors – the first of many, and who knows what lies ahead. They only have until 2020 to make their mark before they face the ballot box again.
Before then, they will need to find their purpose – to give people a reason to re-elect them. With limited remits and budgets, more of their power will lie in influence rather than ‘command and control’. While their local priorities will have been nailed down in their manifestos in the run up to the election, they now need to work out how to deliver them on limited resources.
Second, they need to bang on the door of central government to ensure they do have the powers they need for the future.
Despite his critics, George Osborne has somehow managed to hand the Conservative Party four urban mayors – even in places where the cities voted Labour. And with two-thirds of the new mayors matching Theresa May’s brand of Conservatism, this is the perfect moment to break the UK’s obsession with centralisation and create a fully devolved democracy.
While the Government works out how it takes back powers from the EU, it should think about how to hand them down to mayors, to councils and to local communities. Pooling restored European powers in Whitehall will only serve to undermine the growth agenda sought through Osborne’s regional ‘powerhouses’.
Third, the mayors will need to build their local economies to create financial stability in the post-Brexit economy – creating jobs, housing and opportunities for local residents and their children.
There is a real danger that the disengagement felt by the electorate who voted to leave the EU – who are fighting to supposedly take back control from Brussels – will be equally alienated by the post-Brexit world unless they see and feel the benefits.
Therein lies a big irony. The repatriation of EU powers will only be effective in reinvigorating democracy if the national politicians who campaigned for Brexit are bypassed and restored powers are handed down to a local level.