One of the issues I discussed with Darren Johnson for our recent interview, but which didn’t make the final edit, was the prospect of retiming elections for the London Assembly so that they took place in a different year than those for the Mayor.
For a number of reasons I’m increasingly of the view that London should elect the Mayor and the body which scrutinises him or her at different times.
After three sets of Greater London Authority elections it seems clear that the mainstream media are never going to give Assembly candidates any meaningful level of coverage for as long as they can focus instead on the Mayoral candidates from the three major national parties.
The downside of this is that parties without a Mayoral candidate or who the media decide can’t win the Mayoralty receive virtually no coverage. This despite the fact that the first Mayor of London was elected as an Independent.
The lack of media coverage was cited by MayorWatch contributor and former Assembly Member Damian Hockney for his decision to stand down as a Mayoral candidate, in doing so One London (along with many other groups who had something to say to their fellow Londoners) received so little coverage that they had no realistic chance of retaining their seats.
Even being generous it’s very hard to see what mandate the Assembly groups have in their own right given that most of the manifestos put before the electorate are dictated by the Mayoral candidates. This means we currently end up with groups of Assembly Members elected on manifestos fronted by candidates who were then rejected by the electorate.
If Assembly elections were held a year after those for the Mayor it would give Londoners a chance to make an informed decision about how they wanted to shape the body which scrutinies their Mayor.
It may be, for example, that voters would decide they didn’t want a majority of AMs to come from the Mayor’s party. Inversely it might be that they so approved of a particular Mayoral policy that they’d punish any party running on a platform of opposition to it. Of course, any changes to the electoral cycle should coincide with much greater powers for the Assembly.
One benefit of offsetting elections is that deals between the opposition parties like the one which pre-determined the outcome of all votes at last week’s Assembly AGM would be much harder to justify should the largest group of AMs end up being from the Mayor’s party.
For the record, I don’t happen to think it’s ideal for the Assembly and its committees to be Chaired or dominated by AMs from the same party as the Mayor but, however noble the intent, I’m less keen on politicians taking it on themselves to second guess the will of the electorate.