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Saturday October 24, 2009

Whatever Happened To Mr Mayor?

There’s been much in the media about the lack of civic involvement in sorting out local street crime in the UK and I think it’s a fair point. Where is the mayor when you need him? In truth, I’ve lost track of exactly what a mayor in the UK is supposed to do, aside from rattle his chains and glide around in a chauffeur driven car to officiate at local events. There are two ways a mayor can be elected to office, via the local authority or directly voted in by the community. So what is the magic ingredient that gets a candidate the vote? Perhaps, we should look no further than Hartlepool where Stuart Drummond, the current mayor, won the election in 2002 dressed as a monkey with a manifesto promising to give free bananas to local schools. He was voted back in 2005 and again in 2009 and is the first elected mayor in Britain to have won a third term. And he still hasn’t got round to providing free bananas to school children.

That speaks volumes about the role of mayor in the UK. In Majorca it’s rather different. There’s a huge amount of campaigning and media coverage at the time of local civic elections and everyone gets very emotional about who will gain office. The reason for this is that town mayors on our island hold a critically important role in the community. A few years ago a drunken youth in a nearby village (not a Majorcan, I might add) ran amok, smashing windows, jumping on cars and causing damage to property. The culprit was discovered and in the morning a group of angry villagers led by the mayor arrived at the home of the accused, and forced his mother to make out a cheque to cover all the damage. The police didn’t need to get involved. The matter was dealt with speedily and without fuss. Try and imagine that happening in a town in the UK. Of course our mayors also officiate at events and act as ambassadors for the local community but they are much more than that. They are totally involved in the decisions of the council and in fiscal planning as well as settling disputes between neighbours and solving planning application issues. Majorcan mayors do not hide out in the town hall. They make it their business to meet locals and are out pumping the hand on the street every day. The mayor’s door is always open to the community and more than once I have popped by to ask my local mayor for advice. There have been three elected in my time and I have been on first name terms with them all.

So why has the role of mayor in the UK become so diminished? Let’s face it, even in the children’s TV series, Toytown, Mr Mayor had more status. There he’d be in any crisis, lending a hand to Ernest the policeman and Larry the Lamb. In fact the people of Toytown held Mr Mayor in such esteem that they erected a statue of him in the town square.

Where have we gone so wrong in the UK? Isn’t it time to reinstate a Mr Mayor in every town, willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty in local, every day issues? He wouldn’t even have to dress up as a monkey.

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