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By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

Taking the party out of Mayoral politics

Can good performing mayors ever overcome the sailings of their national colleagues? Frank McKenna reflects on the recent local election and mayoral results, and how they were hijacked by Westminster politicians.

The most nail biting of all the results at the recent local election and mayoral polls came from the West Midlands.

As the impressive incumbent Andy Street called for a recount – an indication of how close the vote was – a Tory Minister appeared on our TV screens to declare that, whatever the outcome, it was a good result for the government because Street had “won, or nearly won.”

Daft as a statement as that was, it was even more depressing that the Westminster political leaders from both main parties made these contests more about them than the mayors themselves.

The only comfort in a weekend of misery for Rishi Sunak came in Tees Valley, where the popular mayor Ben Houchin retained his role. That he did so with barely a mention of his party, or the Prime Minister, was ignored. Sunak dashed over to the Northeast to bask in a clearly unimpressed Houchen’s glory.

Similarly, Andy Street’s decision to put as much distance between himself and the government did not prevent the Conservatives from suggesting a win for the ex-John Lewis boss would be a vote of confidence from West Midlanders in their administration in Westminster.

This attempt by the Tories to hijack Andy Street’s relative popularity led to one of my Birmingahm connections to message me “I’m sorry I voted for Andy now. If he wins Sunak will be claiming that it is his victory.”

Herein lies the problem. Regional mayors were established, in part, so that people would recognise big personalities over the political parties. However, as was proved earlier this month, those who live in the Westminster Village didn’t get the memo.

If we are to devolve more powers to mayors and Combined Authorities, create genuine change makers in the regions they represent, and increase the woefully low turnout for mayoral elections, then making it more about the local candidates and what they have delivered would be a far healthier way of doing it.

Sadly, without a party machine behind you, it is difficult to mount a campaign for elected office. So, I fear, we will see Labour mayors who may be doing a fine job for their regions, fall foul of a vote of no-confidence in a Labour government, when their re-elections take place four years from now.

Kicking a government, rather than rewarding a good performing mayor, will remain the mindset of the electorate, if mayors continue to be seen simply as an extension of their political tribe.

Downtown in Business