CARDIFF EAST EXCLUSIVE: Jonathan Morgan AM – Let the people elect Cardiff’s Mayor

In an EXCLUSIVE post for CARDIFF EAST Conservative Assembly Member Jonathan Morgan says it’s time the Welsh capital had a directly elected mayor. Jonathan Morgan, Assembly Member for Cardiff North, was elected to the Assembly at its inception in 1999. Morgan is regarded as one of the most articulate Assembly Members currently in the Senedd.

Anyone that knows me, know that I’m passionate about the city of Cardiff. I have lived here all my life; I was born here, schooled here, I went to university here, I have worked here and I now have the great honour of representing part of the city and its residents in the National Assembly.

Jonathan Morgan AM: "A directly elected mayor would give Cardiffians a direct say..."

The city has carried with it some of the greatest historical, social and cultural achievements that Britain has ever generated; a city which celebrates its considerable past and its confidence in the future.”

We have some of the most impressive architecture of any UK city – proud castles, highlighting our Norman and Victorian era; a civic centre to remind us of past great city leadership; sporting and leisure opportunities to match the very best in the UK.

Cardiff’s description as a modern, young European capital needs continuous support. Cities don’t achieve greatness just by acquiring a description; they require leadership and dedication by individuals who have vision.

If we sit back and merely accept that the current form of local government is adequate, then Cardiff’s development will stagnate. A directly elected mayor would give Cardiffians a direct say; not just a vote for a local councillor who in turn elects the county council leader but a direct input into what direction our capital city should take.

At the very least, I firmly believe that we should be debating whether this is a route that Cardiffians wish to take.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on Cardiff Council or local government generally. In fact, it’s a proposition to improve it. My family involvement in politics is because of local government. My grandfather served from 1979 to 1996 and then 1996 to 2004 as a city and then county councillor. My mother and great uncle represent one of the wards in my constituency. Had it not been for local government, then my own interest in politics might never have been sparked.

My point is that while people can have a say as to who represents them in their ward or constituency and what the issues that elected person should focus on, there isn’t a mechanism to engage with fundamental issues that affect all Cardiffians, like how transport for the city should operate or where major infrastructural developments like the WMC for example, should be sited.

Cardiff's Mansion House - the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Cardiff in Richmond Road.

I believe that the concept of a directly elected mayor can negate those issues because it has the potential to enable and empower residents beyond their local communities – it provides an extension to democracy. It’s a concept that allows greater engagement with individuals and communities that has never been done before in the city. It’s also a concept that has the potential to successfully link local, Assembly and national government together, encouraging greater co-operation and cohesion.

One of the most important factors for me is that it’s a concept that could revive democratic accountability, for two reasons. Firstly, the elected individual will be mandated by the majority of Cardiff’s citizens; everyone in the city will have a say about the person they want to represent them. Secondly because of this fact, they are directly accountable and culpable for the decisions or failures that occur under their administration. The public have a clear sense of who is in charge and who should be removed.”

Local government leaders on the continent and in America are held in the highest esteem for many reasons. However, one of the most compelling for me is that a particular individual who offers them self up for such an office isn’t always a politician in the conventional sense with a long political background. Michael Bloomberg, the Major of New York, may run under the Democratic banner but he is a hugely successful business man and he brings to the office a wealth of experience beyond the political sphere. Why couldn’t this be the case here? Why couldn’t we have heads of local health boards or even head teachers of successful schools running to lead our city?

Jonathan Morgan AM

I think a directly elected major for Cardiff offers such potential for the city as it would undoubtedly ensure a greater degree of strategic vision about what an expanding capital needs in the decades to come.

You can follow Jonathan Morgan AM on

twitter: @JonMorganAM

website: www.JonathanMorganAM.com

blog: www.blog.jonathanmorganam.com

Read the report in the South Wales Echo here of Jonathan Morgan’s exclusive post for Cardiff East.

‘Why are people so disengaged from civil life’ – South Wales Echo interviews Cardiff Civic Society Chair Peter Cox for his thoughts on the Cardiff Mayor debate – read it here.

Gutto Harri, the Cardiff born former BBC political correspondent, an aide to London Mayor Boris Johnson tells the South Wales Echo here that he believes Cardiff would benefit from introducing a directly elected mayor.

Cardiff businessman, Giovanni Maiacrino, has his  sights set on city mayor role – read it here.

Council leader Rodney Berman insists Cardiff is thriving and there is no need for a directly elected Mayor – read it here.

Further Reading

Lord Mayor – A History

The Lord Mayor

Mayor Regalia

Councillor Keith Hyde, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of Cardiff Municipal Year 2010/11

Councillor Dianne Elizabeth Rees, Deputy Lord Mayor of Cardiff Municipal Year 2010/11

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11 Responses

  1. Given the abject failures of the current LibDem (or is that ConDems? not sure any longer) Plaid coalition to deliver what Cardiff wants and needs, I am coming round to this as an idea.
    The problem – as is generic in Welsh politics at both local and national (Wales and the Assembly I mean, not UK) – is finding someone capable (competent would be good), visionary without forgetting what they are doing it for, and capable of remaining connected to the citizens of Cardiff, not just seeking glory and civic self-agrandisement (Boris v Ken might be example).
    Power does seem to corrupt (take Cardiff council leaders for example) intellectually if not financially (though the Westminster expenses scandal proves even financial corruption is possible).

  2. The failure of an administration to be effective (as in Cardiff, and other local authorities) should not be used as an excuse to bring in another layer of government. I remain to be convinced that an elected mayor increases democratic accountability (and I think London should be considered different to other areas due to size, cross-authority nature, and particular infrastructure needs).

    However, there does need to be change, and its useful to debate the options. We can’t afford whole scale re-organisation of local government, but we can turf out those who do not do a good enough job. Its the responsbility of all of us as councillors to present clear alternatives for the electorate, and if elected, deliver those. We also need more different (diverse) and dare I say it, better councillors- reflecting the communities we serve. If people think the system isn’t delivering for them, they I challenge you to get involved and try and do something about it. That’s why most of us put ourselves forward in the first place (for better or worse!)

  3. Jonathan raises some interesting points in his article. I find myself a little torn on the subject of an elected mayor. It is superficially attractive – a single person with a mandate from the majority of a city, who can take a strategic view and not be split between serving the people who elected them in a ward and looking at the needs of Cardiff as a whole. And yes, it provides a clear line of sight for the electorate as to who is responsible for performance.

    But you could make the same argument for all levels of Government, including the Assembly and Westminster. A directly elected First Minister or Prime Minister, who can select their cabinet, would have a mandate from the whole country and could similarly take a more strategic view. However, Britain has evolved as a Parliamentary, rather than Presidential style democracy. We elect parties with manifestos into power, rather than individuals. For better or worse, we have a rather blurred line between our executive and our legislature. So elected Mayors do seem to me to be a bit, “un-British”.

    America’s not really a great comparison – there the vote is much more for an individual than party. The Mayor of New York has a salary of $195,000 – from memory, an elected Mayor in Cardiff would receive an allowance of around £60,000. For a successful business leader, or a top headteacher, this would be a significant drop in salary, with no guarantee that following the next election four years later you’d still have a job – not necessarily because you’d not done your job well, but because that was the way that the political wind was blowing. Not a hugely attractive proposition, which is one reason why, I’d suggest, there’s not a huge clamour for elected Mayors.

    Finally, there’s the concentration of power in the hands of one person. As a liberal, this is probably what I’m most uncomfortable with. Some might have problems with the way a Council is run – opponents of an administration usually do in any event! However, a political group on a Council does provide some internal scrutiny for an Executive. Currently, the Council Leader is first amongst equals and held to account by their group which is a valuable check in between elections. That would be far more difficult to provide to someone who had been elected with a personal mandate.

    Do we really need an Elected Mayor to put a name to someone who is nominally responsible for the record of the Council? Russell Goodway and Rodney Berman are both recognisable as the faces of their administrations.

    Do we need an Elected Mayor to engage on strategic issues? An Elected Mayor would be working under the same regulatory restrictions, and with the same officers, so I’m not sure that it would necessarily make much difference.

    And would an Elected Mayor improve our democracy? Back bench members already feel that their role and influence has been greatly diminished under the new Council structures, and it’s difficult to argue that this isn’t the case. Chances are that this would worsen with all delegated powers resting in the hands of one person.

    I’m not necessarily against an Elected Mayor in all circumstances, but the legislation would need to change to allow the remaining Councillors an equal power to truly act as a balance and provide democratic accountability outside of the ballot box.

  4. I personally favor elected mayor. However in the US we at least can recall them. Reading your pedegree Jonathan you sound like you belong to a political dynasty like the Kennedy’s something that has become quite unpopular here, thank God! If Cardiff does decide to go that route then the council needs to have its scrutiny powers strengthened! Now Peter Cox needs to start pounded the pavement for his petition and go beyond the talk!

  5. The other point I find attractive is the potential to elect a talented independent and break the stranglehold of partisanship that has crippled Cardiff for years, and is why you find opposition from those who usually try to kill each other in the council chamber!

  6. I’m very glad that we’ve got some Cardiff councillors making serious comments to this debate. My own views – which are pretty equivocal I must say – were accurately captured by the Echo today http://ow.ly/2nXLx . And they are my personal views btw.

    I agree with John Dixon that one of the major issues is post-election accountability. The idea that parties (not politicians these days) present the electorate with a considered manifesto that they then deliver is farcical of course, even if local parties ever did. We kind of vote on aspirations based on what we think the principles of the party are and hope that they will stick with them if in power. Coalitions change all that as we can see in UK and Cardiff.

    John Dixon worries that a mayor would not be accountable: how accountable is the Cardiff Leader and Executive? What was the last major decision of the leader/exec that wasn’t rubber stamped by the coalition block vote? What was the last important policy decision that was overturned as a result of party peer pressure -as opposed to a taxpayers’ revolt?

    He is right that whatever system we have has to be continuously reflective of the electorate and this is where the current system is failing in Cardiff. A good start would be listening councillors and ones brave enough to take on the leader/exec or mayor when they get it wrong. To meet Mike’s point, a few bloody noses might stop leader/mayors behaving like dynastic rulers. We don’t need any legislation to do that, just councillors doing their job IMHO.

  7. The Mayor of New York has more extensive powers than your typical UK mayor or even local authority and would be more compatible to a county Chief Executive (who makes more-money than even the President of the United States I believe) as well as being a legislator by virtue of the federalist nature of the US. The Mayor of New York is usually elected on a party ticket. Rather different to the Mayor of Denver (where I lived in the 1990s) the elections there are non partisan, though instinctively they are Democrats. However they do not run on party tickets

    Living in Denver I saw both the pros and cons of an elected mayor. The first who was dynamic and helped build a good infrastructure for a fast growing city, followed by a mayor who filled jobs with cronies. Yet again the ED mayor of Doncatser has made a hash of things there so could that happen in Cardiff?

    What do the people of Cardiff expect in an elected mayor. Peter would like someone with vision and the ability to carry it through, who will build a prosperous Cardiff who will safeguard those characteristics that make it unique. However a pensioner in Caerau or a single parent in Ely might want to see something of substance and relevant to them. The pensioner would like to see the streets cleared of trash and yobs. Mrs pensioner might like to see the mayor kick the police Chief supers posterior when he does not catch the thieves who has stolen her car or wrote over her wall. Ms or Mr Single parent might like to see the mayor provide a safe environment for her/his kids. Good safe schools, clean safe streets. If I was running this campagn these are the questions I would ask.

    A council leader is part time I believe. Also I think that it can be fairly argued that the present executive does not represent the people of Cardiff in terms of 2008 local election when the conservatives won the largest share of the votes followed by Labour, therefore if this had been an election for mayor, David Walker could now of been that mayor? Yet again would that be fair? there are no Tory councillors in Cardiff West, and and in the 2004 election they had no candidates in Ely.

  8. Peter would like someone with vision and the ability to carry it through, who will build a prosperous Cardiff who will safeguard those characteristics that make it unique.
    Puts it very well, Thanks Mike.
    And not too fussed whether that;s a council ‘leader’ or ‘Mayor’: it’s all about delivery as Mr Osborn might say (maybe).

  9. I have set up a Facebook group! http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=130796986965318&ref=search
    Join and spread the word!

  10. […] Morgan started the debate about a directly elected mayor in a blog post on the Cardiff East blog and since then the debate has continued over whether Cardiff needs […]

  11. […] CARDIFF EAST EXCLUSIVE: Jonathan Morgan AM – Let the people elect Cardiff’s Mayor August 2010 10 comments 4 […]

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