I’m not sure if a powerful directly-elected mayor would be a good thing for cities like Birmingham and Coventry, but the Government’s plans to introduce “shadow mayors” in the meantime look increasingly barmy the more we learn about them.
As the Birmingham Post has reported, the Localism Bill gives Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles the power to appoint shadow mayors to run England’s 12 largest cities, and he is expected to make use of that power towards the end of this year or early next year.
But it’s also well known that Mike Whitby, Birmingham’s current leader, is not keen on city mayors (although I understand he is warming to the idea).
So what happens if he turns down the opportunity to become a shadow mayor?
It turns out that Local Government Minister Bob Neill has answered that one.
As the Commons Localism Bill Committee analysed the Bill in detail, he said: “If someone really does not want the job, he or she can stand down as leader and another person can be appointed in their place.
“If there is no leader of the council at the point that that is done, the deputy leader will become the shadow mayor.
“If there is no leader or deputy leader at the time the order is made, the fall-back position is that the Secretary of State has the power to designate a member of the authority as the shadow mayor. It is as simple as that, so that has dealt with that.”
The Minister was speaking about all 12 of the major cities where shadow mayors will be installed, not just Birmingham. In our case, it would mean that Paul Tilsley, leader of the Lib Dem group on the city, will get the job if Coun Whitby doesn’t want it.
If Coun Tilsley isn’t interested then Birmingham’s new leader will be, well, it will be anyone Mr Pickles feels like appointing.
Of course, it won’t come to that. Mike Whitby is unlikely voluntarily to give up leadership of the council. But the fact that Ministers are even discussing the idea of appointing a leader of the city this way (and the Bill giving Mr Pickles the power to do so has now received its third and final reading in the Commons) seems pretty outrageous to me.