Michael Heseltine, the author of the famous 1981 white paper on Toxteth, It Took A Riot (he was later dubbed “minister of Merseyside” for his work on civic regeneration) was on fine form on The World At One this afternoon. In response to the riots, he called for a dramatic expansion of localism, ridiculing the suggestion that ministers can cope “with all these issues in London”. The key question, he argued, was “how do you create localism that matters? How do you turn localism from a slogan into a reality?” With the exception of Boris Johnson in London, he said, “I haven’t seen an interview with a local authority leader in any of the cities where these problems have existed.”
He highlighted the government’s pledge to introduce directly elected mayors in 12 cities (subject to approval by referendum next May), noting with approval that Cameron referenced the plans in his speech earlier today. However, Martha Kearney, the show’s presenter, responded by claiming that the PM dropped these remarks from the final version of his speech.
I’ve just got off the phone to the No. 10 press office, who confirmed that was indeed the case. According to the text released to journalists (and to Heseltine), Cameron was due to say:
Is it any wonder that many people don’t feel they have a stake in their community?
This has got to change. And we’re already taking steps to change it.
That’s why we want executive Mayors in our twelve biggest cities…
…because strong civic leadership can make a real difference in creating that sense of belonging.
However, these remarks do not appear in the final transcript and Heseltine was left unimpressed, “It was in the text that No. 10 sent me,” he grumbled.
Whether or not this was a deliberate omission remains unclear, but after Boris’s behaviour over the past week, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cameron’s enthusiasm for elected mayors was waning.
Update: I’ve just had a call from the No. 10 press office, who said that Cameron’s speech had been substantially shortened and that several passages were left out. By Heseltine’s logic, of course, some reference to elected mayors should have been left in.