Will metro mayors last the course?

by Kevin Meagher

Westminster has woken up in the last 48 hours to the fact that there are shortly to be new centres of power in British politics.

Although Labour has merely unveiled its candidates for elections in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands, it is hard to see, catastrophe aside, how Andy Burnham, Sion Simon and Steve Rotheram won’t actually be running these great conurbations in nine months’ time.

That certainty aside, there still other uncertainties about the roles:

1) The metro mayors will create a cadre of ‘disruptive’ new players in British politics.

At least that was George Osborne’s hope. Will Theresa May see things that way? The jury’s out. She was certainly a fan of direct democracy when it came to police and crime commissioners, but the election of the first wave of metro mayors in the Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham ‘city-regions’ next May is almost certainly an all-Labour affair in the party’s heartlands. Not much for Tories to celebrate. Will the new PM thank the old Chancellor for lumbering her with a new gang of provincial opponents?

2) The devolution of power also means it spreads more widely.

So ministers will privately groan at the thought of having to negotiate with a bunch of powerful Labour mayors waving their direct mandates at them. But that also goes for Labour’s local government establishment too. In the cases of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, the local favourites, Tony Lloyd in Manchester and Joe Anderson in Liverpool lost out to, respectively, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram. There is a need to bed-in these new arrangements and define what the role of a metro mayor actually is in practice. Certainly both Whitehall and Town Hall will be united in wanting this to be as minimal as possible. The mayors will almost certainly have other ideas.

3) So much of the early success of the new mayors could come down to their personality types.

Both Sion Simon and Andy Burnham are experienced former ministers and proven conciliators, while Steve Rotheram has an easy charm and a background as a councillor. This is fortunate as so much time could be wasted with faction fighting and squabbling. It is easy to see how a character like Ken Livingstone, more interested in confrontation and gesture politics, would be a disaster in this role.

4) The clock is ticking.

The responsibilities metro mayors will inherit are mainly strategic and regulatory. Powers over spatial planning, inward investment, skills, transport planning and control of bus franchising. Important though they are, the mayors will struggle to pull out of all that a ‘retail offer’ to voters next May. And given these types of responsibilities have long implementation periods, they may find that by 2021, it is difficult to point to actual achievements in the job. Will metro mayors simply fade away as a concept?

5) As well as their impact on Whitehall, what impact will the new mayors have on Labour politics?

Each of the three successful candidates: Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Sion Simon – avoided becoming embroiled in the party’s internal rows or as proxies for or against Jeremy Corbyn. Although Rotheram is Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary, he is a mainstream Labour loyalist rather than a Corbynista and each of the three campaigns mainly focused on the role and what each candidate brought to the table. However, longer term, it’s hard to see how the mayors can avoid becoming hugely influential in the life of the party – not least because they will enjoy the novelty among Labour politicians of actually running things.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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3 Responses to “Will metro mayors last the course?”

  1. Rallan says:

    Will metro mayors last the course?


    Will England accept being carved up into career sized fiefdoms for the convenience of professional politicians? Will the lack of English devolution be settled by yet more divide & conquer tactics from Westminster?


  2. Anon E Mouse says:

    For goodness sake Kevin Meagher stop this stuff and get onto the real issues the Labour Party faces.

  3. Steve says:

    A little off topic but interesting piece on the impact of a Trump Presidency on European security http://thesparkuk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/what-would-donald-trump-presidency-mean.html

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