Mayors boost public engagement – report

Metro mayors in northern England are engaging the public, increasing turnout and outperforming their own parties in local elections, according to an analysis of the 6 May polls by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP).

‘Across the North of England, the new metro mayors have caught the imagination of the public. Established metro mayors are providing a more visible presence and leadership, and they are driving up turnout at a local level – in all cases in the north outperforming their party brands’ said Henri Murison, NPP director and author of the report.  

In Tees Valley, turnout in the mayoral election increased from 21% to 34% compared with 2017, resulting in 60,000 more people taking part in the ballot, and the swing to Ben Houchen, who was defending the mayoralty for the Conservatives, achieved a swing of almost 20%.

‘His performance demonstrates yet again that strong, powerful and visible mayors are reshaping local democracy’ says the report. ‘Like the other [northern metro mayors seeking re-election] he outperforms his party at the ballot box. By adding 13% to the turnout since the last election, Ben Houchen’s re-election has been hugely successful at engaging more people in local democracy’.

In Greater Manchester, turnout in the mayoral election rose from 28.7% in 2017 to 34.2%. A total of 150,000 more voters took part than four years ago and Mayor Andy Burnham outperformed Labour council candidates by 21% across the whole area and by a significant margin in all ten boroughs.

And in Liverpool City Region turnout in the mayoral contest rose from 26.1% in 2017 to 30.55% this year, with over 50,000 extra voters taking part. Though other comparisons are more complex because of a change in the number of candidates, says the report, it is clear that: ‘When it comes to the metro mayor contest the incumbent mayor is, as in Greater Manchester, significantly outperforming their party’.

Huge step forward

According to Henri Murison: ‘These new regional political power bases are already having an increasing impact on the national stage as not only do they provide a more direct presence in local decision making, but they also provide a voice which at times does challenge central government. This challenge – which has been demonstrated by Conservative mayors as well as Labour – will continue, unless they are given the powers to exercise directly. To lead rather than plead.

‘As the NPP has long argued, the current arrangements are a huge step forward and the results from the elections this year already show a significant increase in public engagement. Communities rightly look to their new representatives to speak up for the interests of their local areas. Across the north of England this will mean pushing the Government to deliver on its levelling up agenda by trusting them to allow the implementation and delivery in areas like skills and local transport, such as improving buses and integrated travel. ‘

‘The challenge for central government is to see these powers not as a threat but as a vindication of a functioning new form of local representation the government put in place to make it possible to close the north-south divide permanently, making the nation overall better off’.