There's more than a whiff of cynical power play about David Cameron's announcement today that if elected the Tories will "open out" local government.
The centrepiece of the plan is compulsory referenda in England's 12 of England's cities on the question of elected Mayors. This is apparently because Boris in London has been such a huge success (sic).
Leaving aside the mockery that Boris is making of the London Mayoralty, it's not difficult to see why the Tories have selected these cities for a potential shake-up. It can hardly be because elected Mayors have been such a resounding success - regular readers of this blog will know my critique of the office - placing overweening power in the hands of an individual runs directly counter to the best traditions of English local government. Elected Mayors have been a failure - spectacularly so in places like Stoke and Doncaster. Little wonder they have been rejected in 25 out of 37 referenda held to date.
No, the Tories have been converted to the cause of elected Mayors only because they have so little influence in the larger cities at present. With little prospect of that changing anytime soon, elected Mayors offer the Tories the chance of winning instant power. No need, then, for the slog of building up to control ward by ward. An elected Mayor could deliver some of the larger cities to the Tories in an instant - or at the very least disturb established Labour or Liberal Democrat administrations.
It's an astonishing fact that as far as I could see via the councils' various websites this morning, in none of the 12 cities named by the Tories do they have outright majority control - the figures are;
Birmingham: 49 Tory councillors out of 120.
Bradford: 37 out of 90.
Bristol: 13 out of 70.
Coventry: 27 out of 54.
Leeds: 22 out of 99.
Leicester: 8 out of 54.
Liverpool: 0 out of 90.
Manchester: 1 out of 96.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne: 0 out of 78.
Nottingham: 7 out of 55.
Sheffield: 0 out of 84.
Wakefield: 23 out of 63.
Little wonder then, that none of the true Blue shire counties are being set up for the Mayoral treatment...