THE Capital should have its own Boris Johnson-style elected provost to help it tackle the challenges of the modern age – at least, that’s according to the London Mayor’s father.
Stanley Johnson (pictured below), who was in Edinburgh to address a Conservative party dinner, claimed the role carried out by his controversial, larger-than-life son down south was a model which ought to be followed here.
Edinburgh has had its share of problems recently, not least with the tramworks and the statutory repairs scandal.
And Mr Johnston senior said that having a single figure with the power to drive forward ideas would prove a huge advantage in dealing with such situations.
He said: “Being the father of the Mayor of London, I’m very much in favour of you getting a powerful elected provost. It would give a chance for people to have renewed, accountable local leadership.”
London has had a directly-elected mayor since 2000. Ken Livingstone did the job for the first eight years and Boris Johnson has been in post since 2008. Mr Johnson senior said as well as establishing a direct link with voters, the post had to have serious powers.
He said: “It’s a matter of how close you feel to the people who take the real decisions in the city. You would probably have to look at a division of responsibilities. There is no point in having a mayor if he has nothing to do.
“What has worked so well in London is Boris has had real responsibilities over police, transport and a lot of planning. You could move in that direction as well.”
Tory councillor Dominic Heslop backed the idea, saying: “I think there is certainly an appetite for somebody to take overall charge. I’m concerned there is too much power in the hands of officers and I would much rather see a directly elected provost who has overall responsibility for the city.”
And Cllr Heslop had a surprising nomination to offer for the job – Labour’s long-serving former Lord Provost Eric Milligan.
He said: “Eric Milligan was a global ambassador for our city and very widely known. Even as a young Geordie lad who came up to St Andrews University in 1996, I knew the name Eric Milligan. When you go into Deacon Brodie’s there is a picture of him with the late Pope John Paul II. He was a very recognisable figure. Boris is a popular guy who transcends normal political boundaries – and I would say Eric is a similar sort of character.”
Some other cities in England already have elected mayors, though several others rejected the idea in referenda last year. Critics argue the system centralises too much power in one person.
Last month, Edinburgh came under fire from city academic Professor Richard Williams, who described the Capital as “a once great city now in abject decline” and branded to it a “dystopian wasteland”. Writing in the respected US-based Foreign Policy magazine, he highlighted the tramworks, empty shops in Princes Street, the statutory repairs scandal and the state of the waterfront as evidence of the city’s “urban stagnation”.
Labour council leader Andrew Burns said he was not opposed to the idea of elected mayors or provosts, but he did not believe it was a panacea.
“Electing a single figurehead doesn’t solve a town or city’s problems. You only have to look at Hartlepool, where they elected a monkey football mascot.
“I would much rather have an Edinburgh Ken Livingstone than an Edinburgh Boris.”