Thursday, 24 November 2011

Do English cities want elected mayors?

Next May voters in eleven English cities will be asked if they want elected mayors - which already exist in fourteen locations ranging from the rather special case of London to smaller towns such as Bedford and Mansfield.

The Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors which I am chairing has been set up to provide an evidence base for considering the case for and against elected mayors. We are interested in whether they make a real difference compared with more traditional forms of local government. Some people think that the idea is an important democratic innovation, others that it is just a gimmick.

If voters in one or more cities do choose to have them, we need to think about how they can be effective and this will be one of the Commission's tasks. Read more here: Elected mayors

I have also written a longer post about this topic on the LSE Politics and Policy blog: Elected mayors

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Church militant?

Leamington Parish Church

Not for the first time the Church of England has made a fool of itself over handling the demonstration outside St.Paul's. The Church's response has been weak and inconsistent, revealing once again internal divisions. Given its overall weakness, these events could do it permanent damage.

The Church stands accused of being more concerned with temples of stone than a community of people and failing to preach the social gospel of the Sermon on the Mount. The placard held aloft by one demonstrator, 'What would Jesus have done?' was rather telling.

However, I do have some sympathy with the Church in terms of its positon as a custodian of what are in effect national monuments which cost a great deal of money to run but for which it receives no public money (unlike a number of European countries that have 'church taxes' such as Germany and Finland). No wonder that it relies on 'suggested donations' for admissions and is worried about the income from its gift shops.

St.Paul's is the ultimate cathedral icon because of the pictures of it standing proud among the smoke and devastation of the blitz, a symbol of the country's stand against the Nazis. But the problem is replicated on a smaller scale across the country.

In Leamington we have a Victorian parish church. It is a large building, too large for the congregation in a town that has several Anglican churches. It's pleasant on the eye not particularly outstanding architecturally and it costs a lot of money to maintain. But it's an important and familiar part of the townscape, as important as the town hall with the statue of Queen Victoria outside and if someone suggested knocking it down there would be a furore.

No doubt all these problems will raise the issue of Disestablishment again. Many outside and inside the Church of England would like to see it hapen and the arguments in favour are convincing. Probably the main counter argument is that an Estabished church has to offer its services to all its citizens.

I would be personally sorry to see the Church of England disappear, but large parts of it have failed to move with the times or not quickly enough. It still has too many echoes of the 1950s which was not a glorious age whatever historian Dominic Sandbrook (now writing daft articles in the Daily Mail) might tell us. It recalls an era of a stuffy, repressed and repressing Establishment whose worst sin was to be boring.

As a Londoner born and bred, I have never been in St. Paul's and I must do sowhen these troubles end. Incidentally, as far as the demonstration is concerned, it is become a story about the Church rather than the banks.