Does Brum need its own Boris Johnson?
Say what you want about London's mayor, and Boris appears to have friends and foes in equal measure, but you can't argue with the fact that he is a high-profile figure Just look at the press comment following his cameo at the closing ceremony in Beijing - he seems to have the knack of increasing the press comment on London simply as a result of being Boris.
Which got me thinking: would Brum benefit from having its own directly-elected Mayor?
Central government is certainly keen on the idea. A recent white paper, with the admittedly less-than-snappy title of Communities in Control: Real People, Real Powers , is the first step in its latest effort to encourage more of us to have referendums on whether or not to have elected mayors. Only 13 towns and cities do so at the moment, and the powers-that-be appear a bit stumped as to why more of us haven't jumped on the bandwagon.
After all, even without the changes proposed in the white paper (which may not become law), mayoral campaigners did not have to overcome particularly steep obstacles in order to force a referendum on the issue - all you currently need is 5% of the local population to sign a petition. 7 referendums have taken place since 2004 and only one - Torbay - was successful.
One problem appears to be a lack of interest in the issue amongst the electorate - only 18% of the voters in Bury bothered to vote in their referendum earlier this year (but 60% of those who did rejected the idea). A similar explanation may well apply to the Birmingham Mail's unsuccessful campaign earlier this year - it only raised 12,000 of the 36,000 signatures it needed. The government's response in the white paper? Only require 2% of the population to ask for a referendum.
So are elected mayors a good thing? The answer perhaps depends on who's mayor. Paul Dale, the Post's public affairs editor, is a fan. The main arguments in favour: a powerful figure with a clear electoral mandate has to be better than the slightly haphazard committee system of obscure backroom deals we have at the moment (see Paul's blog for a detailed explanation of how Brum is currently governed) and may spark greater interest in how the city is run. The main argument against? No-one appears to be that bothered.
What do people think?