Monday, 4 August 2008

Cometh the hour, cometh the man?

The IWA exists to provoke thought and debate, and generally, I think they do a pretty good job. But I was more than a little disappointed with their latest offering on the idea of an elected mayor for the Heads of the Valleys.

There is a very good argument to be made for a reduction in the number of local authorities in Wales. Politicians of all parties know it (although they're mostly afraid to admit it), and they know that some of the Valleys authorities in particular could do with some rationalisation. Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent in particular are very small authorities, with limited resources.

There is a good argument – but the IWA choose not to make it. Instead, they propose leaving the existing local authorities and their functions untouched, and creating another level of government. Well, that's what they say; but in fact, on some of the specific proposals they make, it is hard to see how the proposed mayor could function without taking some powers away from local government.

Even if they were right about the need for 'strong executive power', what they propose effectively fragments power across four levels (local authority, the mayor, the Assembly and Westminster), rather than three at present. If a strong executive authority really is the answer, then we should do the job properly, and face up to the inevitable local government reorganisation at the same time.

The comparison with the Mayor of London is a nonsense, in my view. Firstly, the powers proposed are so much more limited. Given the relative size (London's population is more that twice that of the whole of Wales, never mind that of the Valleys area), and the existence of a National Assembly, the scope for a powerful mayor who does not take power away from either the Assembly or the local authorities is inevitably limited. And secondly, there isn't the same geographical logic - on transport, for instance, I don't see how there can be a sensible strategic transport plan for the Valleys alone, when the main arteries run to Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea.

Leaving the detail aside, however, the aspect that I really quibble with is the idea that personalising politics somehow solves all problems. Just get someone with charisma, and give all power to him (all the names suggested are male, note), and all our problems will be solved. Really? Where's the evidence for that?

The whole thing looks as though they've decided that they like the idea of elected mayors (at a time when New Labour have gone distinctly cool on their own creation), and are trying to fit it to the problem; it doesn't seem to start from any rational analysis of what the Valleys actually need.

Oh, and am I the only one fed up with the names Hain, Davies, and Wigley being trotted out every time any role is suggested in Wales? Able politicians all, I'm sure, but are any of them really so wonderful that merely appointing them to a role will put the world to rights?

5 comments:

Freda Speech said...

Wot no Woman

Ceredig said...

Freda,

Indeed not. When it comes to 'power' and 'charisma', it seems that both the IWA and the Western Mail can think only in terms of male members of the species. Sooner a man from outside the area than a woman from within, it appears.

welsh lobbyist said...

'Oh, and am I the only one fed up with the names Hain, Davies, and Wigley being trotted out every time any role is suggested'

I agree but it shows how little impact many of our politicians of both sexes are making on the collective consciouness which is depressing.

Ceredig said...

Lobbyist,

it shows how little impact many of our politicians of both sexes are making on the collective consciousness

Maybe; but is the problem with the 'collective consciousness', or just with the 'selective consciousness' of the commentariat?

Anonymous said...

IWA is out of date out of tune if this is all it has to recommend.