Who will be crowned Mayor of Greater Manchester in May?

By Michael Taylor

Greater Manchester elects its first Metro Mayor in May 2017 for an initial three year term. He or she will be the chair of the Combined Authority – comprising the leaders of the ten Greater Manchester boroughs. Currently the Interim Mayor is Tony Lloyd, a former MP who was elected as Greater Manchester’s first Police and Crime Commissioner, but who was then elected by the ten leaders to shape the role.

What powers will the Metro Mayor have?

The directly elected Metro Mayor will be responsible for setting out a strategy for growing the city region economy, and will have certain powers over issues such as housing, transport and skills. Previously the majority of these powers lay with individual local authorities, though Manchester combined many functions such as transport and waste. New powers over skills, housing and transport are being devolved to Greater Manchester level, but the Combined Authority has also negotiated further powers over criminal justice, skills, health and social care.

The Centre for Cities, a think tank, say that over time the powers of the Metro Mayor may well increase, as has happened in London. “The Devolution Bill is a deliberately non-prescriptive and enabling piece of legislation that allows for the devolution of almost anything – housing, health, welfare, policing and more – to a local level. The limit to the level of devolution under this model will be the willingness and ability of local and national politicians to reach agreement on what other functions may be devolved in the future.”

To date, combined decisions have been reached consensually and team-working has been a key component of the success of the Combined Authority model in Greater Manchester. This has been achieved across party divides and across borough boundaries, with the bigger strategic interests of the conurbation in mind. It has also involved complex and constructive relationships with central government.

The new Metro Mayor will be required to lead something that has been working effectively and show tenacity and an ability to adapt to team working. But Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council since 1996, has also described the role of the Mayor as more of a PR and ambassadorial role.

Will the Greater Manchester Metro Mayor be Andy Burnham?

The Labour Party members in Greater Manchester have selected the Leigh MP Andy Burnham to be their candidate. The former Health Secretary will resign his parliamentary seat and trigger a by-election.

Given Labour’s electoral dominance in Greater Manchester – the party controls 9 of the 10 councils – it would take an earthquake to shake that. With a high-profile nationally recognised personality like Burnham, it has also seen Burnham begin to shape a more distinctive Northern Labour message, distinct from the national leadership.

Assuming it is, what will be his political priorities?

Burnham, who has twice stood for Labour leader, first as a Blairite wonderkid in 2010 (he came 4th), then as a working class party loyalist in 2015 (he came 2nd to Jeremy Corbyn) is not easy to categorise, except as a survivor. He didn’t resign as Shadow Home Secretary, pledging loyalty to Corbyn as the leader with a mandate from the membership. He also remained neutral in the Labour leadership contest.

The Mayoral role will be about demonstrating competence in government and working with the ten leaders who form Greater Manchester’s cabinet. In his acceptance speech as Labour candidate he looked beyond division, saying: “I do think we need to open up politics here. It has been too closed. I want to open it up to more than the Labour party. I do want to involve our members and councillors more. I want to send a message today to the church groups in Greater Manchester, the voluntary organisations, young people, the business community. I want everyone to get involved.”

Assuming he wins, he will also have to repair relationships with the other leaders, most of whom backed Tony Lloyd and the other candidate, Ivan Lewis MP, and won’t be pleased with the implication the leaders have operated a “closed political culture”. He also said the role required someone with cabinet-level experience, which seemed quite dismissive of what has been achieved by very capable people who do not.

What about the other Mayors in other cities?

Steve Rotheram has been selected in Liverpool and is seen as a more overtly Corbyn-supporting figure. Though close to Burnham, the two are sharing resources and he may pursue a more anti-austerity agenda, providing an immediate counterweight to how the Greater Manchester Mayor operates. It is only an initial three-year term, which gives none of the Metro Mayors much time to build capacity, organisational momentum and a clear set of achievable goals. Focus is therefore much more likely to be about political grandstanding and occupying an alternative political terrain, before switching back to campaign mode in the final year.

Should Andy Burnham build a careful consensual relationship with the government and Prime Minister Theresa May, and to immerse himself in the constructive practical politics of local government, then he could by default disappoint party members. It is a long shot, but he will keep his eye over his left shoulder should Labour’s left wing membership think he is too soft on “austerity” and is party to any cuts to services. Many of the new Corbyn supporting members weren’t eligible to vote in this selection process and many are hostile to the very idea of a Greater Manchester Mayor.

How can he achieve his ambitions in a short first term?

The priority will be securing new jobs through inward investment deals, signing off already agreed transport schemes like the Trafford Park Metrolink, agreeing to cheaper travel for young people and introducing an equivalent of the Oyster card to tackle the mess of ticketing on buses, trams and trains. These would be quick wins. But as with plans for nursing bursaries, these will have to be funded at the expense of something else.

How will the election be conducted?

As in London, a supplementary vote system will be used to elect all the Metro Mayors, which gives voters the opportunity to mark their first and second choice. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two candidates continue to a second round while the rest are eliminated, and the second choice votes of everyone whose first choice was eliminated is counted. Therefore, the battle for the run-off against Andy Burnham will be between UKIP, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Who are the other candidates?

The Liberal Democrats have selected Jane Brophy, a Trafford councillor while the Conservatives have picked Sean Anstee, the leader of Trafford. Tragically, Deyika Nzeribe, the Green Party candidate died in December.

Much depends on how seriously the national Conservative Party take the contest, the party only controls Trafford Council out of the ten local authorities and holds just 5 Greater Manchester parliamentary seats. The optimistic Tory will point out that this vote is across constituency boundaries and every vote counts. Turnout in the five Conservative held seats is also the highest in the conurbation and the party polled 26% to Labour’s 46% across Greater Manchester in the 2015 General Election.

Also, Sean Anstee has an impressive personal story. As he said in this piece on Conservative Home: “I will be the Mayor with true experience of Greater Manchester. I grew up in Partington; one of the most deprived parts of Greater Manchester, albeit with an amazing sense of community spirit and activism. I attended my local comprehensive, finishing at 16 to start an apprenticeship at Barclays. I grew up with my mum and brothers in a single parent family. I have seen how despite every day being a struggle, with the right focus and determination, being beholden to a welfare, skills and health system that traps you into a cycle of dependency does not have to be the case.” On meeting him, the response is frequently of the order of – “he seems alright, for a Tory”.

It is important too to factor in the next phase of the turmoil within Labour. How would a split in the parliamentary party play out locally? Where will the activists go? Could this campaign keep the  moderates in the party, despite their frustrations with the leader? And what of Labour’s national poll standings? It may not be the coronation of Andy Burnham that everyone expects.

Brexit may also be an issue, one the Liberal Democrats will seek to use to build their support and identity. As blogger Ben Gartside says, “Burnham finds himself walking on egg shells. If he comes out as too pro-EU, he’ll alienate working class voters in Rochdale, Oldham and Salford who voted overwhelmingly to Leave. If he comes out as too anti-EU, Central Manchester may opt for the Lib Dems, which is dangerous due to the higher turnout from the borough of Manchester in comparison to the expected turnouts in other boroughs. Unless Burnham rows back on recent comments on immigration, he could create longer term problems for the Labour Party than the Mayoral Election.”

Occasionally it is speculated that a business person, such as Gary Neville, Tom Bloxham or Hilary Dewey could stand, or a former pop star like Morrissey. But this is highly unlikely for a role that requires a detailed campaign strategy and a depth of technical political capability. The EU referendum showed us how quickly insurgent political movements can be formed and coalesce around emotional issues like identity and a perceived injustice and frustration with the establishment. Maybe after two years of frustration a Manchester movement could rise up as the SNP did in Scotland, but there are no signs of it so far.

What kind of campaign will it be?

It won’t have the feverish national spotlight of a London Mayoral battle. It should also be more constructive and positive. When this writer introduced the main two candidates to one another at a discussion at the Business School in late 2016, both appeared to be consensual and respectful, but that will all depend on how close the race is. Turnout will be a factor, how effective any of the campaigns are in motivating their supporters to vote for a completely new position could heavily influence the outcome.

 

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