Councils can choose between a "Strong Leader" and Cabinet or a Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet. Waverley Borough Council will open a consultation this summer for people living in the borough (Farnham, Haslemere, Godalming and surrounding villages) and I thought I'd jump the gun with this, my first post on my new blog.
I'd love Waverley to choose an elected mayor for three reasons:
- The mayoral race and the mayorship could energise residents and encourage participation in local politics
- An elected mayor will not necessarily come from the same party as that which controls the council, leading to - dare I say it - consensus politics (this year's must-have political accessory)!
- The "chain of responsibility" is shortened. The council leader is responsible to the residents, so getting the residents to elect directly is surely preferable to the current model whereby the local councillors chose the leader
Whether the previous statement is true or not, it highlights the shadow that central government casts over local government in many people's minds. Aside from a directly elected mayor, I'd like to see Waverley embrace social media and other internet tools to reinvigorate public participation in local politics.
As a first step, all council meetings and other public events should be webcast live. With services such as Ustream providing readily accessible and scalable infrastructure to deliver live content, this if done sensibly should cost the council no more than the price of a laptop and half-decent webcam.
This summer Waverley are also due to open a public consultation on their website. My advice would be to view the Waverely website as only one of a range of tools the council can use to engage with residents. Without mentioning the F-word (okay then, Facebook), there's Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere.
Any public consultation could start with Google (if you don't have Google, any good search engine will do). A suitable web search will often return residents' feelings as embodied in their blog posts. Of course for some subjects it won't be possible to search for local views without catching the national noise. This is where social networks come into play. Bloggers should be able to simply "@Waverely" and get their blog posts read and considered in any consultation.
Social media can be used to break-down the barriers to public participation whilst simultaneously increasing awareness of local issues. Maybe one day people in the borough will care as much who the next mayor will be as the next Prime Minister!