OPINION: UK cities can all learn from Ken

The race for 2008 London mayoral elections is under way...

This week it was confirmed that Boris Johnson hopes to be the Conservative candidate, and we are seeing a desire by all parties to put forward candidates who offer a distinct personality to become the face of the London brand. But unseating Ken Livingstone will be a tough task for any candidate.

Love him or loathe him, Ken has delivered on the promise of a mayor for London. He has brought shape to the destination offer for Lon­don and has developed a ‘bid’ mentality for the city, bringing successes such as London 2012 and the Tour de France.

Ken has brought sense to London as an offer through initiatives such as VisitLondon and the recent cultural events programmes. International visitor numbers are at their highest since 2000.

London is now in the premier league, but even the most famous cities face challenges. Person­ality politics hit politicians a long time ago, it hit business more recently and it’s about to take effect on cities. It now falls on the Tories, with the over­whelming majority of councillors in Britain, to take the brave decisions and look at their role in creating simpler government and simpler lines of communication. At the moment they’re still seen as lacking a real view on city life. For example, Manchester remains resolutely Tory-free. So if the Tories are looking to the right, then they should take a look to the left. London is a better place with a mayor.

If cities are serious about attracting trade, tourism and talent, then the quickest way they can achieve this is to bring in a city mayor. The mayor is the chief executive of the ‘City plc’ and should be the communicator-in-chief.

In some cities the office of mayor is tied up in ridicule and misunderstanding. In 2002, H’Angus the Monkey, the mascot at local football club Hartlepool United, beat a number of more serious contenders to the top job. Such farcical appointments mean that cities are missing out on the potential a strong mayor can bring to a city.

In the private sector, CEOs have become the personification of the brand. In the future, cities are going to need their mayors to become their communicators-in-chief as personality politics and increasingly presidential styles of govern­ment take effect on cities.

Michael Hayman (l)
is chief executive of The Communication Group

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