Why Andy Burnham’s Manchester could change the face of UK politics

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

So, with the result of the Greater Manchester metro mayor election declared, Andy Burnham completes his move from opposition MP to local leader. The Conversation

Burnham’s decision to stand for the new post was seen by many as a signal that for ambitious Labour politicians, the place of power may no longer be in Westminster but rather the combined authorities – with all the powers they carry.

In a similar vein, this election also saw MP Steve Rotheram – Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary and occupant of the ultra safe seat of Liverpool Walton – decide he would rather be Merseyside’s mayor.

Greater Manchester is one of six metro mayor positions elected in the recent poll. And while each role has a slightly different combination of powers, it’s argued that the Manchester role is the most significant.

Here, those drawing up the combined authority remit – which looks to cover Greater Manchester as a whole – have included policing and health along with the more expected responsibilities, such as transport. And in the run up to the election, lobbyists and think tanks have been quick to see the potential, and the need to build alliances.

A victory for Labour?

While it will take some time before citizens in Greater Manchester, and the rest of the country, get an idea of just how much of a difference this new mayoral figure will make, the implications of the recent vote for political parties and for democracy can be examined straight away.

Labour will of course point to this result as a sign of success. When Sadiq Khan won the London contest, much was made by Labour of the victory here. But it will be harder for Corbyn and others to make as much of Greater Manchester.

This is mainly down to the fact that in London there was a contest – or at least the perception of a contest – between Khan and Zac Goldsmith. Whereas in Manchester, while it is true that other candidates have worked hard, no one was realistically expecting anything other than a Labour win. The combined authority is made up of ten local authority areas, nine of which are currently Labour led.

But beside the immediate spin, there is a bigger strategic point here. Because if Labour is smart, it could use its position in city regions – such as in Manchester – to build and maintain a reputation for running big things well.

This could mean that Manchester may well turn out to be of great use to the party as a way of demonstrating ability on a significant stage.

But of course that in itself will depend on making the rest of the country, and the nations voters, all realise that the stage is in fact significant.

Low turnout

But despite Bunham’s win, many of course will be concerned about poor turnout – which was 28.93% for Greater Manchester. For a big job with big responsibilities, this is a poor level of voting.

Similarly low levels of voter turnout were previously seen when the regional police and crime commissioner roles were initially introduced. And it is true that it takes a while for people who are not political obsessives to get used to innovations like this.

Nevertheless, there will be work to be done to make people both aware of the metro mayor role, and convinced of its democratic legitimacy.

But low turnout figures and awareness aside, the role could clearly play a key role for Labour’s regional strategy. And given that Burnham recently said he is ready to leave Westminster and devote himself to Manchester, it may be that the the political watchers will need to start keeping an eye on the Irwell rather than the Thames.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shock reaction to election proves May and her team know what they are doing

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

Britain had barely returned from its Easter break when the press reported that Theresa May, the prime minister, was to make a statement in Downing Street. After an hour’s frenzied speculation about what she might say, May stepped up to a podium in front of Number 10 and announced that she and her cabinet had decided there should be a general election on June 8. The Conversation

And that, it seems, is that. Under the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act, at least two-thirds of the House of Commons must vote in favour of an election for one to be called – ahead of the due date which in this parliament was scheduled for 2020, the last election having taken place in 2015. But with Labour saying it will back May’s decision, the country will head to the polls in a matter of weeks.

This was a bombshell announcement delivered at remarkably short notice. Even though political commentators have been debating the advisability of calling a snap election since the Brexit referendum, the announcement caught most of them by surprise.

So what does the announcement tell us about May, her team, and the challenges they now face?

First of all, May is taking a gamble on her personal brand. Until now, she presented herself as a steady, no nonsense, get-the-job-done leader. To reinforce that image, she several times reiterated that she would not call an early election. Her sudden U-turn might seem like an opportunity for the opposition parties, but she’s probably not too vulnerable on this front.

For all that politicians and political reporters obsess over process issues and consistency, most voters don’t. May will also be protected by the vote in the Commons to come: Labour, for one, will vote in favour of an early election, so Jeremy Corbyn and his party can hardly attack her for calling it.

Game on

The U-turn factor notwithstanding, May’s argument for holding the election is reasonably logical. As she acknowledged in her announcement, the Brexit process has caused confusion, and many people will want a simple and clear way through the minefield. By painting the opposition parties as obstructionists and troublemakers that endanger the future of a post-Brexit Britain, May puts herself on the side of the people.

It all added up to a fantastic example of a leader wrongfooting both the media and the opposition, who scrambled to issue their responses.

The Conservatives are also surely keen to fight a Labour party run by the dramatically unpopular Corbyn.

May has also reportedly ruled out any TV debates along the lines of those held in 2015. That’s a blow to the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron, both of whom stood to gain from sharing a stage with May. (Anyone who watched the 2015 debates will remember that Sturgeon’s debating skills are especially formidable.)

The May team won’t have the element of surprise again, and a lot now depends on whether they’re actually ready for the campaign. But the timing, tone and surprise factor of the election announcement was the work of a team that really knows what it’s doing. The fallout over the next few days will tell us a lot about the Conservatives, but even more about the other parties.

As Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and UKIP respond in full, we’ll start to see just how strong, prepared and determined they are – or aren’t.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is the end nigh for independent election candidates?

Marking A Tick Box

When Ken Livingstone was first elected as mayor of London he was an independent. George Ferguson became mayor of Bristol in 2012 as an independent. And in the first police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections, also in 2012, more than one quarter of those elected were independent candidates.

These roles lend themselves to strong individuals who can project a personal brand. And because the voting system, the supplementary vote, means that second choices may be needed, too much blind party loyalty is a bad idea.

Yet in the May elections, with contests in PCC areas as well as four mayoral sites, independent candidates did rather badly.

Eight PCC positions which had been filled by an independent are now occupied by party candidates – Conservative, Labour and Plaid Cymru. And the mayor of Bristol is now Labour. These results might not mark the death of the independent candidate but they do suggest that it will become harder to succeed without a party badge.

The rebirth of party politics

Timing is crucial for PCC contests. In 2012 they took place in isolation. This time they shared a date with other elections. Voters will have been influenced by the other noise going on.

In every single PCC contest, turnout was up but that doesn’t mean citizens are suddenly more interested. It is much more likely to be the result of turnout being driven by the other contests.

Some people will have voted in the PCC election with a desire to support the party they had just supported in one of the other elections (be it Welsh Assembly, local councillor or elected mayor). This tendency works against independent candidates as unless he or she can achieve “cut through”, they are unlikely to be noticed.

Political parties also seem to be getting their act together in these contests. There was considerable reluctance in some quarters to campaign in 2012 and this, coupled with the massive areas PCCs cover, makes campaign organisation difficult.

One of the disadvantages of running as an independent is that the word “independent” is all you can put on the ballot paper. The law only permits descriptions of registered political parties or the word independent. This is why we no longer see descriptions such as Independent Labour, which used to be used to signal ideological stances.

If there is more than one independent in the contest, it can be difficult for the candidates to stand out. Some have even registered new political parties specifically to avoid the problem. These are not intended to fulfil a proper political function but to help the candidate stand out on the ballot paper. Bristol mayor George Ferguson, for example, founded the Bristol First party ahead of the city’s mayoral contest as part of his campaign to defend his position. Another was the Zero Tolerance Policing ex Chief party.

In some cases this year, the incumbent chose not to stand again. This does not mean there was no independent candidate, but that the name on the ballot paper was different. In Kent, the PCC elected in 2012 had become somewhat controversial and chose not to defend her record. Independents also chose not to defend their incumbency in Gwent, North Wales, Warwickshire and West Mercia – although in each of these, with the exception of Gwent, at least one other individual contested the seat as an independent.

Mayoral contests

Of the existing 18 elected mayors, just two of them are independents. These are in Copeland and Mansfield, both non-metropolitan district areas – not big cities, in other words.

Ferguson had been an independent mayor for Bristol but lost this election to Labour challenger Marvin Rees. The same day saw Labour triumph in the local elections in Bristol and it is easy to imagine the strength of the party machine in the city compared to that available to Ferguson.

Marvin Rees, Bristol’s new Labour mayor, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn. PA/Claire Hayhurs
While clearly independents are motivated by all sorts of factors, and are by definition all sorts of people, we can perhaps also learn from those who have never won. On Merseyside in 2012, an independent came third (in fact challenging for second) in the PCC election. This year there was no independent candidate. In Liverpool in 2012 an independent came second in the mayoral contest. This year the independent (not the same person) came fifth.

So are the independents on the way out? As far as 2016’s evidence goes, it will be much harder for an independent to break through in one of these big roles in future. Perhaps we need to look at those independents who defended well to see what their secret is.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Everything you need to know about the mayoral election

Foot voting. Ververidis Vasilis/shutterstock

On May 5 when the UK next heads to the polls for local and regional elections, voters in London, Salford, Liverpool and Bristol will have an extra choice to make – who they want to become their next directly elected mayor.

Directly elected mayors have a great deal of power – unlike their purely ceremonial counterparts who tend to be senior councillors wearing the robes of office and tasked with carrying out a range of civic duties. Directly elected mayors are there to exercise political leadership and to “get things done”.

London was the first to have this post, but by the middle of next year there will be more than 20 elected mayors across England. And in the recent budget, the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, spoke about increasing the numbers again which could mean more to come.

The modern London mayoralty began back in 2000 following a referendum in London which supported the creation of a mayor and a Greater London Authority and provided legislation to introduce the structures.

More positions were created shortly afterwards, in places as different as Bedford, Doncaster, Lewisham and Middlesbrough. Tony Blair was an enthusiast as is David Cameron – and the push to create more elected mayors has continued ever since. Mayoral elections are for a fixed term, which means those mayors last elected in 2012 will face a contest this year. Terms of office – assuming no death, resignation or disqualification – are four years long.

For or against?

Those in favour argue that mayors can provide strong local leadership. Research looking at the impact of the mayor in Bristol has shown that the introduction of an elected mayor directly resulted in an increase in the visibility of city leadership. But those against say that the creation of elected mayors actually reduces local democracy with most elected representatives having little or no power.

This is because the more power belongs to the one figure, the less power each individual councillor has. An example is that whereas an administration’s budget could be defeated by a majority, the mayoral budget requires a two-thirds majority. Mayors also may not feel answerable to elected councillors because rather than being elected by the council (as council leaders are) the mayor has a direct mandate.

The decision to have a mayor is often taken by a referendum, although there are examples – such as in Liverpool – where local people were not consulted and the mayor was elected by the council. Decisions have also been revoked – both Stoke and Hartlepool decided to abandon the role after controversies. Hartlepool’s elected mayor, Stuart Drummond, was an independent candidate best known for his role as the local football team’s monkey mascot. And a lot of other local electorates in England and Wales have actually rejected the idea altogether.

Despite the significance of these positions, turnout in mayoral elections has been low – participation in the last London contest did not reach 40%. And in Liverpool, back in 2012, just over 31% cast a vote. Politicians know that turnout is partly driven by a sense of a close contest, but in London there was a perception of a contest and yet still the turnout was low.

What does the role mean?

Being an elected mayor is a big job. The largest constituency in Liverpool has an electorate of around 70,000, while the figure for the mayoral contest is closer to 320,000.

The powers of elected mayors vary – but they have great symbolic importance and individuals can develop a strong personal presence, becoming “Mr Salford” or “Mrs Watford” for example. The focus on the individual also encourages image building. The first directly elected mayor of Middlesbrough, former senior Cleveland police officer Ray Mallon became known as Robocop by many,

Many MPs or former MPs also seem to view becoming an elected mayor as a good career move – and in London both main players are current MPs. Leicester’s elected mayor is former MP Peter Soulsby, while Ian Stewart in Salford was MP for Eccles at one time, and former MP Sion Simon reportedly plans to contest the West Midlands post next year.

Who wins? You decide. BasPhoto/Shutterstock

How does the voting work?

Voting in the mayoral elections is a little different to voting in local or parliamentary contests – the system used is the supplementary vote. This basically means that electors get a first choice and a second.

If no candidate reaches the 50% threshold, only the top two remain in the fight and all the other ballot papers have their second choices transferred. This clearly affects campaign strategies and messaging – annoy the supporters of every other candidate and you are unlikely to get second preferences. Boris Johnson needed second choice votes to get across the line in 2012.

There is also the consideration of how the other polls happening on the same day will influence the way people vote. While we might want to believe that voters carefully consider each role separately before making their choice, we know that the presence of one very popular or very unpopular individual on one ballot paper is likely to affect thinking about others.

I voted by post today and had three ballot papers: mayor, police and crime commissioner, local councillor – which is a lot of decisions to make about our future leaders in one go. If elected mayors are to have the legitimacy the government desires then electoral engagement needs to increase. But it’s not the voters fault if they don’t see the point. It is down to mayors themselves to become better at making us see them as relevant enough to care about.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who’s going to win?  Show me the money

I blogged previously about a conference at which academics made predictions for potential election results based on a range of factors.

One of those factors was money.

It is possible, by looking at the Electoral Commission website, to see which constituency or local parties have received the most in donations in any particular quarter. Parties have to send this information in by law when donations are over a certain amount.

Election campaigns cost money.  Election campaigns in seats which a party is hoping to win, or is defending hard, cost more money. So logically those local parties generating most in donations are those who are main players in tight contests.

It’s also the case that national party fundraising efforts will often focus on particular target seats.  I know as a party member myself that requests for money are being made for some constituencies and not others.

So to test this thesis, let’s look at what everyone would agree is a marginal seat (Warrington South) and what everyone would agree is a safe seat (Bootle).

Warrington South, from 1 September until today, shows £15,000 of large donations coming in to two parties (Labour and Conservative).  Bootle however shows no large donations to any party.  Even if the searching reaches back to 2013, still no large donations appear.

Now of course it is possible that donations go to another part of a political party before being moved to a local account nearer the election. It may also be that some local parties are very active in fundraising terms, but the sums donated are small enough to be under the regular reporting radar. But even with these caveats, the contrast between Warrington South and Bootle is stark.

come cannot be a sole predictor.  After all it’s not just what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. But in an environment in which a ground campaign could make the difference, the capacity to campaign, and the preparation to do that, is significant.