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How do Boris Johnson’s powers stack up against those of his fellow mayors in other world cities?
Compared with New York’s mayor, he is relatively weak. Michael Bloomberg has control of public health, education, fire services, police and parts of the justice system. Many of the functions carried out in London by the 33 boroughs are performed in New York by city hall.
But in transport, London’s mayoralty controls a key element not available to Mr Bloomberg. Mr Johnson is keenly aware of the difference. “We have more powers over mass transit than New York does, which is very important for delivery of regeneration and housing,” he told the FT.
Tony Travers, a London expert at the London School of Economics, says the UK capital is unusual internationally for its “bottom-heavy” governance arrangements. “The boroughs collectively are more powerful than the mayor in the London system …it’s a set-up without parallel in the developed world.”
In Paris, the 2014 fight for city hall has already started, with the election shaping up as a battle between all-female contenders dubbed by some as the “Borisettes”. The victor will gain similar powers to Mr Johnson, but over a much smaller area covering the arrondissements of inner Paris.
The method of election also plays to Mr Johnson’s strengths. He won a personal mandate of more than 1m in the 2008 election, whereas Paris elects its mayor through the councillors or “mayors” of the individual arrondissements.
Mr Travers says: “One of the things that makes the London mayor most powerful is the magic of the direct election. When the government created the mayoralty in 2000 it ended up setting up something that was in some ways more powerful than it was.”
Tokyo’s mayor holds sway over a greater population – 13.2m compared with London’s 8.17m – and its boroughs have less control than London’s, giving the mayor extra clout. Berlin has a different system again. There, the “governing mayor” has extensive executive powers over the city, which also counts as a state in the German system. The role is not directly elected, but is voted in by the Berlin state parliament, whose members can also oust the mayor through a motion of no confidence. The mayor presides over the Berlin Senate as a “first among equals”.
Mr Johnson has accreted some powers while mayor, gaining control over aspects of housing policy last year. He has also set his sights on a bigger role in education to safeguard the improvements in London schools in the past decade.
Mr Johnson said: “There is a strategic role for us in education to act as the ‘grit in the oyster’, to stimulate best practice, to spend money on encouraging excellence and to help with the creation of new schools where those are wanted.”
Could London be better organised? Mr Johnson’s predecessor as mayor, Ken Livingstone, considered proposals for merging the 33 local authorities into five super-boroughs, but with little political appetite for such a profound reform of London’s governance, the idea never gathered momentum.
Mr Johnson, at least, seems broadly satisfied with his remit. “I don’t want you to get the impression I’m some sort of megalomaniac,” he said. “I work very well with London councils and it’s a collegiate arrangement. I’m not trying to create a kind of dictatorship.”
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