LATER this year Newport Civic Society will be hosting a debate on the subject of elected mayors.

The debate, in September, will focus on whether Newport should have an elected mayor in the same way that London and a small number of other towns and cities in the UK has.

While it is a debate worth having, I can't help feel that the subject matter has had its day.

The more towns and cities given the chance to vote on whether they want an elected mayor, the more vote against it.

There have been almost 60 referenda on elected mayors across the UK since 2002. Yet there are only 16 directly elected mayors in the country.

Of these, five are in London. Meanwhile, two cities - Leicester and Liverpool - decided to go ahead with elections for a mayor without bothering with a referendum first.

The idea is simply not popular.

Those in favour of elected mayors say they provide cities with strong leaders, that mayors are more accountable to the electorate, that turnouts at elections would be higher, and people from outside the usual party political arena would be encouraged to stand for office.

Well, my views on whether Newport needs a strong leader banging the drum for the city are well known. But I fail to see how another set of elections and another tier of government would deliver such a leader.

The argument that there would be more successful non-political candidates if we had an election for a mayor in Newport just does not hold water.

Look across the country. Of the nation's 16 elected mayors, just four are independent. The rest represent the main three political parties. In other words, a so-called 'new' way of running local government just produces the same old same old - representatives who are governed by the party machine rather than the needs of the people who elected them.

If there is one thing that local government does not need it is more politicians.

People in two areas that voted for elected mayors - Stoke and Hartlepool - have since voted for a return to a conventional cabinet system of governance.

Hartlepool is, of course, the best example of the folly of the directly elected mayor.

In 2002, the good people of Hartlepool did indeed reject party politics and voted into power H'Angus the Monkey - the mascot of the town's football club whose only policy was to provide free bananas for school children.

Admittedly, the man in the monkey suit - Stuart Drummond - turned up for day one of his new job in a business suit and was never seen dressed as an ape again. And he was re-elected three times.

But he is an exception to the rule.

There is a place for elected mayors in places like London. Boris Johnson and Ken Livingston before him are not local politicians. They have a place and an influence on the world stage because of the importance of the city.

But elected mayors do not make sense for the rest of us.

It is a system that risks putting too much power in one person's hands, that risks giving the party political machines more influence than they have already, and that risks sidelining many very able local politicians who have an important role to play.

It is an American idea that would transfer itself as badly to these shores as elections for police commissioners.

And we all know how well received they were at the polls.

  • The debate on elected mayors takes place at Newport civic centre on September 11 at 7.30pm.