David Sweeting asks: What difference do directly elected mayors make?

David Sweeting
David Sweeting

by David Sweeting, Associate Editor of Policy & Politics

In a development that I couldn’t have scripted better had I been able to draft the legislation and push it through the Houses of Parliament myself, Bristol adopted a directly elected mayor in 2012. I have a long-held interest in directly elected mayors in the UK, and urban political leadership more generally. Since I arrived in Bristol in 1998 to work on an ESRC project on urban political leadership, the topic of leadership in Bristol has been a recurring one. Bristol’s abrasive politics has meant that many council leaders’ terms in office were short-lived, despite their abilities as leaders. The theme of leadership instability at the top was one that stuck to the council, despite the existence of a stable leader in the years running up to the adoption of a mayoral system of governance.

Colleagues at the city’s two universities have been collaborating on the Bristol Civic Leadership Project, where, in addition to attempting to make a positive change to the governance of the city, we are also trying to work out the difference that the adoption of a directly elected mayor makes. To my delight, the Policy & Politics conference enables people who share my fascination with urban political leadership generally and directly elected mayors in particular, to gather to discuss topics around these themes. Over three linked panels, we have 12 papers discussing various aspects around the topic of ‘what difference do directly elected mayors make?’. As well as a number of UK based papers, we also have contributions from New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. I hope you can join us for what I think is sure to be an interesting discussion for those interested in urban politics and governance innovation.

David Sweeting is Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, and Associate Editor of Policy & Politics.

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