Transcript: Reception for mayors

PM: "Mayors can really galvanise economic action to deliver economic growth and make our cities dynamos, and that is what we need in this country in the future."

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

Michael Heseltine

Good morning.  I hope I won’t be misunderstood if I say I’ve waited a long time to invite you to Number 10, but I know that you will all be enthusiastic with me to thank the Prime Minister for allowing us to have this reception here in pursuit of the government’s policy, which is to support the creation of directly elected chief executives and mayors in 12 of our great cities.  And the first and great privilege of mine is to introduce the Prime Minister, who’s going to say a few words. 

Prime Minister

Thank you very much, Michael. 

Now, I am really enthusiastic about this gathering today.  I have lots of parties and meetings and receptions in Number 10, but I’m really enthusiastic about this because I profoundly believe that we should be moving in our country to having more directly elected mayors in our big cities.  I know it’s a big cultural change for Britain; it’s a big move for us and it’s absolutely going to be up to the people of those cities to make that decision, but I very much hope we will get yes votes across our country.  We have a mayor in London, who I think is doing an excellent job.  We’ve now got a mayor in Leicester, a different party but I think he’s doing an excellent job.  It’s very exciting that Liverpool is going to be moving towards having an elected mayor, and I hope we can see really big steps forward.

And for me, there are three very straightforward reasons why this is the right approach.  The first is about accountability.  We all know there’s a problem in politics with people saying, ‘Who is responsible?  Who is going to get this done?  Who do I blame when it goes wrong?  Who do I praise when it goes right?  Who is responsible?’  And I think having a directly elected mayor is the best single answer to that question.  It engages people in politics.  It gets people to vote in politics.  It makes people care about the future of their city, about the future of their country.  So that is the accountability reason.

But I also think there is an economic reason.  If you look around the world, particularly in Europe, those countries that have got cities that are really driving economic growth, they often have got great leaders who are helping to inspire that economic growth and get things done.  And often mayors are capable of making bold and difficult decisions, whether you agree with them or not.    Congestion charging was a bold and difficult decision.  Raising a supplementary rate to make sure that those great drill bits are going through our capital and building Crossrail was a difficult decision.  Mayors can really galvanise economic action to deliver economic growth and make our cities dynamos, and that is what we need in this country in the future. 

But there’s also a broader reason why I’m in favour, and maybe it’s an odd one for a Prime Minister to be making, standing here.  But I think a new generation of mayors in our cities will fundamentally enrich our politics as a whole.  I look across the world and I see great politicians who’ve run cities who then go on into national politics, and indeed you see national politicians go into city politics.  I think that would enrich our political culture right here in the United Kingdom.

So I am 100% enthusiastic about this agenda.  I think it can really drive a political renewal in Britain, a city renewal, an economic renewal in Britain too.  And as well as those three points, I just wanted to make this announcement in addition.  I want to establish a Cabinet of mayors.  I would chair its first meeting.  I want, when we have a good number of mayors around the country, to bring them together so we can swap ideas and experience and initiatives.  And we can really make sure that central government is not just helping to deliver these referendums, but is also going to start delivering extra powers, extra resources to those cities and to those mayors so they can get even more things done. 

I think this is a really important agenda in our country.  Let me be absolutely clear: it does not belong to one political party.  I am delighted there are Labour politicians like Sir Peter Soulsby here today.  I am delighted there are Lib Dem politicians like Lord John Shipley here today.  This is a cross-party agenda and I want us to maximise the yes votes in those cities as we come up to these May referenda and make sure we change the political culture of Britain.  More great leaders in our cities, more political renewal, more economic dynamism: that’s what we get from Mayor Johnson in London; that’s what they get from Mayor Bloomberg in New York.  Let’s have that in all our big cities up and down this country. 

But you’re very welcome here on that agenda today.  Thank you very much indeed. 

Michael Heseltine

Well, thank you.  Thank you very much indeed, Prime Minister, and you’ve actually saved me the trouble of introducing the three short speakers that we’re going to have, but they’re from all the parties.  First of all, Peter Soulsby, who is already the Mayor of Leicester. 

Peter Soulsby 

Thank you, Michael.  Yes, as the Prime Minister described it, I’m a politician who went in the other direction because I did have a period as a Member of Parliament, indeed on the Opposition front bench.  Prior to that I’ve had 17 years as a council leader, and for the last nearly 12 months now have been the first elected mayor in Leicester.  And on this occasion, I feel somewhat like the Blue Peter mayor, the one they made earlier.  But actually I’ve also been described as Exhibit A, but I realise in the presence of Boris I’m actually Exhibit B today. 

But that having been said, I am firmly committed.  And as the Prime Minister has said, this is a cross-party agenda.  I am firmly committed to elected mayors as the appropriate form of governance in our large cities.  Before I was an MP, I was council leader in Leicester for 17 years and I do know the difference.  Because, as a council leader, you are just that: you are leader of the council.  And no matter how much you aspire to be more than that and to speak out for the city, people inevitably see you as the person who represents the council.  You are selected by councillors after the election in a secret process that most people in the city never really understand.  And you’re not really accountable to anybody other - no matter how much harder you try - to anybody other than the councillors who selected you. 

As the mayor, it is completely different.  You are selected in my case by my party, but there were plenty of independents stood against me.  I was elected by the people, and that’s the thing that makes a difference because they are the ones to whom - as elected mayor - I am accountable.  And they’re the ones at the end of the day who will judge my performance as mayor.  And in just over three years’ time now, they’re the ones I expect to go back to and ask for their approval for a second term.  And that is fundamentally different from anything that I ever had in those 17 years as a council leader. 

And of course the other thing that you have as mayor is a mandate to speak with confidence, with clarity on behalf of the city.  And with partners and others who care about the city, to develop a vision for the city, to articulate that vision, and to deliver that vision.  And that is very, very different from any council leader. 

Now, when the Olympics come to London, it won’t be an anonymous person with a chain who’ll welcome them.  It won’t be a council leader who’ll welcome them.  It will be the Mayor of London who will welcome them.  When the Queen came to Leicester very recently for the first stop on her Jubilee tour, it wasn’t an anonymous lord mayor in a chain who nobody actually knew.  It wasn’t a council leader who nobody could name.  It was the person that the people of Leicester had elected who welcomed her to the city and spoke on behalf, and spoke with considerable pride about the city of Leicester.  And of course when investors come to the city, it isn’t an anonymous person with a chain around their neck that they want to see.  It isn’t a council leader that they want to see.  It is the mayor that they want to see.  It is the mayor that they expect to speak to them, to bring and to welcome the investment and the jobs to the city.  And that is something that only a mayor can do. 

So as other councils now move towards having their referenda, I look back at the 12 months to when Leicester decided to have an elected mayor.  And at that time people were saying, ‘Why do they need it?’  We’ve got a lord mayor; we’ve got a council leader.  Why do we need a mayor?  Well, I tell you: they don’t ask that question in Leicestertoday.  They know why they have a mayor, because they know that in a mayor they have somebody who will articulate the vision, develop the vision, lead the partners and lead the city.  And I believe that having an elected mayor is the form of governance that is accountable, that is democratic, and that is   effective and that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.  Because if it’s good enough for our European rivals, our European competitors, our North American competitors, our North American rivals, then it’s good enough for us.  It’s delivering for Leicester; I believe it’s something that will deliver for our other major, great cities in the UK. 

Michael Heseltine

Thank you, Peter, very much.  And now it’s Lord John Shipley, who was of course leader of Newcastle City Council and was a former Vice President of the Local Government Association.

John Shipley 

Michael, thank you for the introduction.  A few years ago, I was leader of Newcastle between 2006 and 2010.  And three or four years ago, you wouldn’t have got me supporting the case for elected mayors.  So in that sense, I’m a convert.  But the reason is that the world has changed dramatically and is going to go on changing. 

My council achieved a very great deal in terms of its service delivery.  It produced a business-improvement district, working closely with the private sector.  It had seen major growth in private sector jobs, one of the fastest growth rates of any English city.  We were three star rated in adult social care in our housing, ALMO.  We were Falling For The Future’s greenest city in England two years running.  We had a major capital building programme in park culture, but also in education and libraries and similar sectors and we had been hugely successful. 

That is not what the issue now is.  You can deliver services like that with a leader and a cabinet model.  The problem is this.  Well, not a problem, the opportunity is this; that cities need to understand that the government is devolving.  For the eight cities in the core cities group it relates to those city deals and major devolution.  The context is a bigger one however of devolution into Scotland, however that pans out, Wales, Northern Ireland and or course increasingly one suspects into London.  

And English cities and I’m absolutely delighted, Prime Minister, by what you said about your meeting with English city mayors.  I was hoping to hear something like that, but it really, really, really does matter because English cities punch below their weight.  In terms of Gross Value Added (GVA) they account for 27% of GVA.  London alone accounts for one percentage point more than that.  There is an enormous opportunity for economic growth and that opportunity, you know, for all the reasons that have been explained to you already, you know, I believe has to be grasped. 

But let me just say one other thing.  In November we shall have elected police commissioners and there will be a direct connection between the ballot box and the person who has democratic responsibility and accountability.  And I think that just changes the nature of the local government world.  It means that people will increasingly question why is it that only a small group of councillors decide who the leader of the council is going to be, a majority within a group that system then imposed upon the council as a whole.

I believe that with the devolved powers that I am so happy with what the government is now doing, that actually you have to have a governance structure that meets the requirement of that devolution, and that through a mayoral structure actually we will have stronger economic growth and a stronger system of representation in our English cities.

Michael Heseltine

Well, we’ve now heard from a Labour mayor and from a minister of the Lib Dem Party and we turn to Boris Johnson of London.  And, Boris, before you get up on the platform I just want to say that however successful you are in London as Mayor, whatever else your future comes, you will always be renowned across the world as the man who replaced me as Member of Parliament for Henley. 

Boris Johnson

It is absolutely true.  And, Michael, I want to thank you because you are godfather of the whole mayoral operation.  I remember watching television in 1994 or thereabouts and you said we should have mayor; it’s absolutely true, he said we should have a mayor for London and I thought that would be a good job to do one day. 

I want to thank Dave very much obviously for allowing me into Number 10.  But I want to tell you all that it’s much, much better and much more exciting obviously to be in City Hall and really as Mayor of London.  And the mystery that I think we all face is, why has our country, our society not had mayors before or rather why has the habit of electing mayors died out?  

I think the answer is we’re a very literary nation, I like to think, and if you look at literature it is studded with examples of mayors who come a cropper in one way or another, isn’t it?  I mean, the Mayor of Casterbridge sold his wife in act one, scene one and then persuades the people to eat adulterated bread.  The mayor in Ibsen, the enemy of the people, he persuades the people to eat - to drink, rather, adulterated water, I think.  The mayor in Jaws allowed, in fact encouraged large numbers of his constituents to be eaten by a gigantic fish.  Mayor Quimby in the Simpsons, I can’t remember what he… I think he came a cropper, I think he wanted to build a gigantic monorail.  Mayors invariably in literature and indeed sometimes in life turned out to have venal and surprising tax arrangements or indeed…  And so the history is not good. 

And yet I believe whatever the individual defects of the people who may arrive in the office of mayor it is an absolutely vital function in our democracy.  And you need a mayor in a big city like London to champion and to militate for the interests of everybody in the city.  And when there are threats to police budgets, as there may be from time to time, you need a mayor who can go in to bat with government and get the money to put another 1,000 police out on the street at this May, to name a time entirely at random, more than there were four years ago, to pick a period entirely at random.  

You need a mayor who can go in and campaign for the things that will make a lasting difference to the economic life of the community.  And that could be Crossrail, which will expand our rail capacity by 10% that project alone, or the tube upgrades.  It could be fighting for housing budgets.  You need a mayor, I think, and the point has been made already by some of the excellent earlier speakers, you need a mayor who can serve as the lightning rod, but also the point of contact for people who admire the city, who see an opportunity there and who want to invest.  You need a mayor to answer the Henry Kissinger question, if I want to get in touch with London who do I ring?  The answer is you ring City Hall and we’ll put you in touch with the relevant person and we will make sure… 

Let me give you an example.  After the royal wedding which went spectacularly well, I think you will remember the royal wedding last year, it went spectacularly well, I was surprised by the number of people who were ringing up, international investors, saying, ‘London, get me there, you know, what can I do?’  And people wanted to sponsor things, they wanted to invest and that is one of the functions that the mayor has got to fulfil.  And I’m proud to say in the course of the last four years, another period entirely at random, well over £100 million has been generated in sponsorship for the city, simply by the operations of the mayor going out and thrusting his card into various people’s hands.  That is an important function.  

But I think it was Peter Soulsby who really got to the heart of it just now.  It is also about being there for people so that people feel there is someone who is accountable.  Whatever it is, whatever the issue is in the city there is someone who has to speak up for them and to stick up for them.  And that is the job of the mayor and it’s something that is occasionally quite tough, but always immensely, immensely rewarding and fun.  And some of you may know, I conduct a rolling focus group wherever I go in London on my bicycle or otherwise and that is basically what mayors do.  

It was Mayor Guo Jinlong of Beijing who told me he thought, by the way, that the congestion charge, which Dave mentioned earlier on, was far too tyrannical a measure to be imposed by the Chinese authorities.  Mayor Guo Jinlong said there was an ancient Chinese proverb which was, let me get this right, ‘Unhappy is the mayor of a capital city’, he said, I don’t think it’s the snappiest proverb I’ve ever heard, but it’s also completely untrue, folks, it is completely untrue.  It is a most wonderful job to be Mayor of London. 

Being a mayor overall is a fantastic thing to do, I urge you all to do it; I know there are many candidates here.  I wish you every possible success.  And all I can say is thank you very much to the Prime Minister and his team and to Michael who is the godfather, as I say, of the whole thing for organising this and up with mayors in England and everywhere, thank you. 

Michael Heseltine

Well, I know you would all like to thank the Prime Minister again for his hospitality here and the inspiration of his message and that of the three speakers who have shared their experiences with us.  

There’s only one last thing that perhaps I may dare say that this isn’t about somebody else.  It’s so easy for people to say, yes, well, it’ll happen, it’ll happen, someone will do it, there’s plenty of people. There aren’t.  This is about whether you care about your cities, whether you’re prepared to go out there and put your head above the parapet, say what the vast majority of people actually believe, but we need leaders.  

And just remember that President Obama became President of the United States because he understood the value of the internet.   You need a couple of 30 year olds who understand the web in order to launch a public campaign.  So I hope there’ll be people here today.  I see Joe Anderson,the Labour Leader of Liverpool, who’s already taken his council to the stage of a direct election.  Mike Whitby, the Leader of Birmingham who’s now come round to the view that we need directly elected leaders and I’m delighted to have had some small part. 

I listened to Boris, as I have done on many, many occasions, and he brings great erudition to every subject he discusses.  And if anyone is ever worried about the slogan that a little learning is a dangerous thing, my god, a lot of learning is a great deal more dangerous and it makes Boris’s speeches something you have to listen to word by word, phrase by phrase to the very end and may it long go on.  Thank you very much indeed.

Published 28 March 2012