David Cameron has been outspoken in his support for a directly-elected mayor, slipping in a plea for voters in Coventry to back the proposal as he answered questions in the Commons.
He was responding to a question from Coventry MP Jim Cunningham (Lab Coventry South), who had urged him to scrap plans to introduce local pay in public services, and asked when the Government would announce long-awaited plans to fund a school rebuilding scheme in his city.
Neither of these issues are directly connected to the referendum on May 3, but Mr Cameron took the opportunity to call for a positive vote anyway, as well as promising that Education Ministers would take a look at Coventry’s schools.
All credit to the Prime Minister for putting his money where his mouth is and throwing his weight behind the campaign for a mayor.
The Government’s policy is that it’s entirely up to local people in the cities holding ballots to decide whether they have a mayor, but that needn’t prevent Ministers from being up-front about their personal opinions and Mr Cameron is certainly that.
By contrast, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband both hide behind the mantra that it’s a local decision and refuse to reveal their personal opinions.
The danger for Mr Cameron is that it will be seen as a personal rejection if cities vote no in the referendum, although Downing Street is apparently optimistic that it will get the result it wants in Birmingham and Bristol, and other cities might later follow Birmingham’s lead.
So credit where it’s due to the Prime Minister. But I’m also reminded of what a shambles the policy on mayors was for many months, when the Government announced plans to create “shadow mayors” without referendums.
What exactly a shadow mayor was supposed to be and what they would do was never explained, and the policy was eventually abandoned.
More recently, we’ve seen more ill-thought out ideas in George Osborne’s budget. This government doesn’t lack courage, but it doesn’t always inspire confidence in its competence.