The Scoop

Meet the least powerful man in the city, Mayor Thingumabob

Adam Bienkov | Monday 13 June, 2011 15:10

Do you ever find yourself wondering just who the Mayor of London is? You know, the blond fella. If you do, then don’t worry yourself too much. You’re not alone.

A recent survey commissioned by City Hall found that almost one in five Londoners cannot name the current Mayor of London.

And before you assume that this must be a freak result, think again.
In fact ever since City Hall started asking the question eight years ago there has been a sizeable and solid chunk of Londoners totally oblivious to the man ruling over their city.

This block of around one and a half million Londoners are content to live their lives in blissful ignorance without ever bothering to find out the name of the man in charge.

And it’s not just those who can’t name him. When asked how much they knew about what the Mayor does, 59% of Londoners said they knew either very little or nothing at all.

But then who who can blame them? I mean sure we all see wotisname on the telly
from time to time, planting trees, or cycling with Arnie. But how much do we actually see of him doing his job? Whatever that might be.

And I should know. As one of the sad few who bother to turn out to see the Mayor answer questions in City Hall once a month, I can attest that the great London public are not exactly beating down the doors to find out what’s he does all day.

And the reason they’re not beating down the doors is because they understandably believe that he has very little impact on their lives.

He sets fares, but he has no serious tax-raising powers. He can make speeches, but not laws. He sets the police budget, but does not have operational control over it.

And whilst he speaks often of improving the Met, he does not even bother to chair its police authority.

In fact if the current Mayor Boris Johnson fell victim to an extraordinary rendition tomorrow, a large percentage of Londoners would notice no immediate difference to their lives at all.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. In the coalition government we now have two parties supposedly committed to localism and devolution.

Under their stewardship the Mayor of London could be given significant powers over how the city is run, from its police, to its schools, to its negligent train operating companies.

If they wanted to, the government could make the Mayoralty truly relevant to our lives and get rid of that blissfully ignorant block of Londoners once and for all.

And yet far from empowering him, the government seems reluctant to hand over even the most insignificant of new powers. Appeals for extra control over the Thames have drifted out to sea, and even proposals to put the mayor in charge of cutting grass and picking up dog mess in the Royal Parks, were withdrawn at the last minute.

And so the man with a bigger personal mandate than any other politician in the country is allowed to carry on with fewer direct powers than the average local council leader.

Yet as the recent Scottish elections have shown, when the public are given the chance to vote for somebody with real powers over and dedication to their region, then they are happy to do so in great numbers.

Alex Salmond is taken seriously because he has been given the powers to have a real impact on the lives of Scots. Future Mayors should be given the powers to have a similar impact on the lives of Londoners

Of course none of the major parties are interested in seeing an Alex Salmond of the South emerge in London. But for the sake of the one in five of us scratching our heads whenever Mayor Thingumabob pops up on the television, it’s something we should now seriously consider.

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