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.

Everything you need to know about metro mayors – and the latest Labour nomination

SilvanBachmann/Shutterstock
SilvanBachmann/Shutterstock

Next year will see the election of England’s “metro mayors”, in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, the North East, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, and the West of England. The role has been created by the Conservative Government and will see powers from Whitehall handed over to regional leaders – who will be accountable to voters as to how these powers are used.

The move will put one individual at the head of an area covering several local authority patches. But the mayoral powers that person will have, will differ from place to place. This is because each area has a different agreement with the Government concerning what the mayor will or won’t oversee.

Sound complicated? That’s because it is. Supporters of devolution, however, would argue that a one-size fits all arrangement wouldn’t work and that this is a positive step forwards for local politics.

Under the new system, each area will have a mayor who will be a significant local figure in the way that some council leaders, and some MPs, can only dream of. It is because of this power and significance that the candidacy for these roles has become a prize of some importance, encouraging former cabinet ministers and senior MPs – such as Andy Burnham and Ivan Lewis – to contest the party selections.

What has happened so far?

Currently, we have only seen Labour’s selections, voted for by party members. In the West Midlands, the party elected former Birmingham MP and current West Midlands MEP Sion Simon to stand. In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham has been announced as Labour’s candidate, and in Merseyside – also known as the Liverpool City Region – Steve Rotheram will stand for election on the Labour ticket.

Of the three Labour party selections made this week, Liverpool City Region is perhaps the most significant, partly because the candidates represented different camps within the party and partly because of the region’s complex geography.

Liverpool City Region is in fact made up of six local authority areas, only one of which is Liverpool City. The other areas are Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, and Wirral. All have their own very specific local concerns and fears about resources being “dragged to the centre”. This is also significant for other metro mayor areas, such as Sheffield – which also includes Doncaster and Barnsley, both areas with their own unique identity and issues.

In Liverpool, the selection process saw three main candidates vying for the role. Joe Anderson is already the elected mayor of the Liverpool City part of the area and chair of the Combined Authority. Luciana Berger is MP for Liverpool Wavertree and was Shadow Spokesperson on Mental Health until she resigned in protest against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. And Steve Rotheram is MP for Liverpool Walton and parliamentary private secretary to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Steve Rotheram was named the winner, with a 72% member turnout.

What does all of this mean?

What we can take home from the recent results is that Labour members are not always satisfied with those already in post. In both Manchester – where former MP Tony Lloyd was effectively acting as mayor – and Liverpool, voters have turned against someone who was effectively already doing the job. This of course could simply mean that post holders can make enemies through their decisions while challengers do not carry that baggage.

Steve Rotheram, Labour’s candidate for metro mayor of Liverpool. PA

That said, party candidate selections are unusual elections. Candidates need to make themselves distinct from the other challengers but must also be careful not to criticise them too heavily. The need to be seen as loyal to the party pulls in the opposite direction to the need to seem different. This means candidates need to identify issues on which criticism can be made without seeming disloyal.

In Merseyside, where campaigners from other parties have highlighted threats to park land, Rotheram made good use of the whole “open space” issue. He managed to talk about his commitment to protect open space in a way that effectively criticised mayor Anderson’s record – or the appearance of Anderson’s record – while not implying disloyalty to the party.

What happens next?

All of this also arguably demonstrates members’ continuing support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Of the candidates, Berger was one of those who resigned her post, while Anderson has generally been noncommittal. This is in sharp contrast to the victorious Rotheram, who is associated with Corbyn through his role as private secretary, alongside his appearance with Corbyn at a rally in Liverpool shortly before the close of ballot.

Steve Rotheram, Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham at the Hillsborough inquest earlier this year. ITV

The Liverpool outcome may well have an effect on shortlisting and internal campaigning in those areas yet to select, such as Sheffield – particularly as the announcement of the Liverpool result provoked some comment on social media about gender balance. All Labour’s selections to date for this role – or for the earlier comparable London and Bristol roles – have been men. And of the three recent selections, only Liverpool even had a woman on the shortlist.

Of course as shortlists are drawn up individually, it is quite possible for Labour to end up with no female candidates at all. But given how bad this looks, I would imagine the senior players such as Harriet Harman will want to think about how to persuade more women to consider one of these roles role. A discussion for the forthcoming Labour women’s conference perhaps?

 

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