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By Kevin Johnson

By Kevin Johnson

Street’s Masterstroke: Liz for Leader

As the Conservative Party conference arrives in town, Kevin Johnson from Urban Communications discusses Andy Street's backing of Liz Truss.

It feels as if there have been more jaw-dropping moments in our national political and economic life in the last 15 years than in any other decade and a half period.

The global financial crash, the Brexit referendum result, the pandemic (“you must stay home”) and the Russian invasion of Ukraine to name a few.

But two smaller moments made my face fall almost as much. At separate events two people, for whom I have respect, told audiences (one being a Downtown crowd!) that West Midlands Mayor Andy Street had played a blinder in rolling in behind Liz Truss’s leadership bid.

As you may remember, his support came late in the day. He was enthusiastically backing Boris until the old dog’s very last political breath.

He then came out for Jeremy Hunt. Probably the candidate closest to Mr Street’s politics, but an odd call given the former Foreign Secretary had no chance of victory.

Later, he laid out his ‘asks’ of the final two candidates, concluding his open letter:

“We need a Prime Minister who will restore people’s faith in politics and deliver on the promise of levelling up….who will give us the tools required to create sustainable prosperity and growth.”

Then, on 1st August, he opted for Liz Truss, citing her “Plan for Growth” and being “Values Driven” among his top reasons.

You might say it was a smart move. A Mayor embracing realpolitik for the benefit of good Government relations and regional deals rather than obsessing about political philosophy.

Following Friday’s “fiscal event”, the Mayor tweeted his excitement at the announcement of “possible” Investment Zones and the “fast-tracking” of transport projects. Nothing then or since on the Chancellor’s, what we might call, fiscal loosening.

It’s worth noting that in most discussions about increasing growth in the region, the calls are usually for more powers, more housebuilding, more control over skills and training as well as research and development funding, better transport and the power to drive inward investment. Dropping the top rate of income tax doesn’t often feature.

The Conservative Party arrives en masse in Birmingham this weekend. It’s possible they might receive a less warm welcome than the athletes of 72 Commonwealth nations and territories a few weeks ago.

One senior figure in West Midlands Labour texted to predict a plaque will one day be displayed on the ICC: “This is the site where the Conservative Party held its last Conference.”

We might expect to see the Mayor standing with the PM or Chancellor sporting high vis jackets and a spade in yet another photo opportunity, with promises about the Midlands Rail Hub, Gigafactory or some other project.

No one will blame Mr Street for being business-like and securing Treasury funds for the West Midlands whilst the boss is in town.

But political leadership is about more than opportunism and deals.

In his open letter to the final two Conservative candidates Mr Street said:

“When we flourish, the UK flourishes. And when we are stuck in the doldrums, the nation suffers.”

The UK economy – and therefore the regional economy – faces a crisis of confidence, much of the Government’s own making.

If trust in public life and confidence in the economy is to be restored, Mr Street must tell truth to power and not just smile for the cameras. Otherwise backing Liz for Leader will appear far from a masterstroke.

Pic: Liz Truss with Andy Street: @andy4wm

Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson is a corporate communications and public affairs professional with 30 years’ experience working in media and consultancy.
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