Time to play the elected mayor blame game

This post is taken from my rolling analysis blog of the election results as they come in – much more on the elected mayoral referenda there throughout the day.

Four referenda results in so far, and all four have voted 'no'. Calls for a post-mortem are already being made as the coalition confronts its elected mayor fiasco.

After the results in Nottingham, Manchester, Bradford and Coventry, the verdict is clear. "The campaign was a complete disaster," says Policy Exchange's deputy director David Skelton. Supporters of elected mayors are viewing the coalition's failure to provide clarity on what powers a directly elected mayor would be given as the number one reason for the bad news. But the problem seems to go further than that. "The campaign in favour has been absolutely lacklustre," Stuart Wilks-Heeg of Democratic Audit says. "Usually when people are presented with a referendum they say 'I'll leave it how it is', particularly when they don't understand the issues that well."

Skelton believes the business and trade union communities need to have a good hard look at themselves, too, to work out why we're seeing such a decisive rejection. The big problems identified so far are that the media's imagination just wasn't captured; that the campaigns weren't sufficiently high profile to make a difference; and, most worryingly, that "they didn't manage to get across the sense that this wasn't about electing just another politician". Earlier this week Policy Exchange published research showing that 81% of people don't think politicians understand the real world. As he notes about average turnout of around 32%: "The anti-politics mood is quite febrile at the moment."

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities thinktank, has been following the individual contests closely. While she is accepting that disengagement with politics is a big factor, the local factors are critical to understanding the results, too. Manchester already has a very strong leadership, so the difference having power concentrated into the person of a directly elected mayor wouldn't have made as big a difference there. Coventry is prospering at the moment, so it would not have felt the need for a chance. Nottingham was expected to reject the proposal, anyway.

The expectation is that even Birmingham, viewed as a shoe-in to vote 'yes' before polling day yesterday, will reject the proposals, leaving Jones gloomy about the prospects of getting even one more elected mayor as a result of this set of referenda. But the Institute for Government is telling me that it's still a little too early to be so downcast. Bristol and Leeds, both also viewed as likely 'yes' votes, are still to declare.

Still, Jones says, it's not looking good anywhere. "The mayoral Cabinet," she notes, "could be a very cosy affair indeed".