by Samuel Dale
Labour is on the cusp of genuine power where it can help shape the lives of millions of people.
Stay with me, I’m not deluded.
Next month’s mayoral elections will create powerful regional representatives in six key areas from Cambridge to Greater Manchester. And Labour can really win power.
The party has a chance in numerous mayoral elections but the closest and most interesting is in the West Midlands. It’s a nail-biter and the Tories fancy their chances.
Sion Simon is running as Labour candidate. Over the past week, Jeremy Corbyn has launched a series of eye-catching national pledges on a £10 living wage, free school meals, small businesses being paid on time and raising the wages of carers. Simon’s manifesto is another boost for those who want fresh progressive thinking put into action.
A victory here would be one-in-the-eye for the narrative that Labour is dying and point to a road to recovery.
Simon’s Tory challenger is former John Lewis executive Andy Street, who is posing as an outsider and attempting to shed the Tory brand.
His business profile has seen him garner national press attention and support.
But the reality is that a Tory victory will mean another compliant mayor doing Downing Street’s bidding on Brexit and the NHS in the West Midlands.
Simon has a positive, centre-left agenda. His 10-point manifesto would boost trade union rights, raise public sector pay for workers and protect the NHS.
Here are some of his good ideas:
All public sector staff will be paid a living wage of £8.45. He wants money invested to boost West Midlands airports and railways. He wants to launch a micro-pilot of universal basic income.
He’ll cut bus fares and give travel discounts to students. He’ll boost nighttime travel to help workers with unsociable hours.
He’ll be a loud voice against hate crime. He’ll support the bid for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2026.
It is a refreshing and positive policy programme that could have an impact beyond the West Midlands.
In the US, state governments are a breeding ground of innovation and policy ideas that can be rolled out at a national level.
The Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly have been hotbeds of fresh ideas under Labour or SNP governments with housing benefit or free tuition fees, for example. Mayors may have different powers but they can push progressive agendas forward. Or they can be government stooges.
Launching a micro-pilot of the universal income could be an invaluable progressive experiment, for example, if Simon can get consent from DWP.
His manifesto also provides hints of how Brexit and Scottish independence will play out with the new devolved heads. He said his top priority is to ensure the region does not lose EU funding streams, which currently tot up to hundreds of millions of pounds.
He is also prioritising redirecting money from the Barnett Formula into the West Midlands and away from Scotland. Treasury figures show the West Midlands receives nearly £2,000 less per head than Scotland. He won’t be silent about it, which provides an interesting counter-point to the SNP.
Some of Simon’s manifesto, such as a pledge to end the “scourge of homelessness” or protest NHS cuts fall outside the powers of the mayoralty.
But in some ways that is where its true power lies. Mayors will be a loud regional voice and media presence, spreading over various policy areas.
The London mayoralty has proven a prominent platform from which to beat the drum for London. Boris Johnson used it as a launchpad for his cabinet ambitions while Sadiq Khan is the most popular politician in the country.
Please help Simon’s campaign this month with a day of action on April 29 and let’s get some hard-fought wins on the board.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist