Tony Blair is a glutton for punishment. After the hiding he took over the election of a mayor for London he might have been expected to put the idea on the back burner. Instead, he has confirmed his belief that elected mayors could do a lot to improve the performance of local government in England. Referendums have recently been held in several towns and cities and in seven of them there was a vote in favour of an elected mayor. Embarrassingly for the prime minister, one of the No votes was in Sedgefield, his parliamentary constituency. Other towns that have rejected the idea include Brighton and Hove, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Sunderland. Next May, therefore, citizens in Doncaster, Hartlepool, Lewisham, Middlesbrough, North Tyneside, South London and Watford will be able to decide which of the candidates will make a Rudy Giuliani – or a Ken Livingstone. Quite a lot hangs on the outcome of these contests. Ministers think that elected mayors will reinvigorate town hall politics and increase council accountability – there should be fewer decision arrived at out of the public eye among cosy cliques of councillors.

On the other hand, it is important that the mayors' powers are clearly defined so that the electors will know what they can expect him or her to achieve.

Nothing would discredit this experiment if the elected mayors found themselves frustrated by lack of clear lines of responsibility.