Towers of the Northern Powerbase

Of the six new mayoral roles being voted for today – Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, West of England and West Midlands (currently under Conservative guardianship) and Greater Manchester, Liverpool City region and Tees Valley (under Labour) four are of northern noteworthiness.

The contest in the West Midlands mayorfest is principally between Siôn Simon, a Labour MEP for the region, and Andy Street, who last year resigned his chairmanship of John Lewis plc, a well-known and profitable UK retail company, in order to launch himself into taking up the Conservative baton in good time.
The winner will have the biggest personal mandate of any UK politician outside London, becoming a figurehead for a region populated by 2.8m people across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Simon is seeking to retain core working class support – where 60% of voters voted to leave the EU.
What was it Osborne the arch slogger said about slogans in his maiden Evening Standard editorial this week about Theresa May’s election campaign?
Simon has seized the Take Back Control meme used by the Vote Leave campaign, having substituted throwing off the shackles from Brussels for liberation from Westminster … and as far as I know he is still a Labour MEP for the region.
In 2010, he stood down from Parliament (following an expenses debacle, all a misunderstanding of course) to campaign for direct election of the Mayor of Birmingham, with the intent of running in the first election. Having failed in that effort, Simon ran in the 2014 EU elections.

As for Street – having worked his way up through department stores, head office and manufacturing units, he became MD in 2007 and, during his tenure at the top, oversaw a 50% increase in gross sales to over £4.4bn, a doubling in the number of stores and the growth of the company’s online sales department – in spite of the economic fallout that has unfolded since 2007.

And while Simon began his political career as an arch-Blairite and has recently declared his support for Jeremy Corbyn, Street was voted the UK’s most admired leader in 2014. What are the chances eh?

Meanwhile local Conservative councillor Ben Houchen could even win the mayoral bunfight in Tees Valley – where more than 60% of its constituents voted to leave the EU.
Victory in either contest would crown what is expected to be Labour’s biggest council election drubbing for 35 years.

Liverpool – home of the Beatles – sits on the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary and its growth as a major port was paralleled by the expansion of the city throughout the Industrial Revolution. Along with general cargo, freight and raw materials such as coal and cotton, the city was also involved in the Atlantic slave trade. It has been a centre of industrial and later innovation: railways, transatlantic steamships, municipal trams and electric trains were all pioneered here as modes of mass transit.
The world’s first integrated sewer system was constructed in Liverpool by James Newlands, appointed in 1847 as the UK’s first borough engineer.

The city celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2007, and shared European Capital of Culture status together with Stavanger, Norway, in 2008. Several areas of the city centre were granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2004. The Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City includes the Pier Head, Albert Dock, and William Brown Street.
Spearheaded by the multi-billion-pound Liverpool ONE development, regeneration has continued through to the start of the early 2010s – yet these projects could be eclipsed by the Liverpool Waters scheme, which if built, will cost around £5.5bn and be one of the largest projects in the UK’s history.
In June 2014, former PM David Cameron launched the International Festival for Business in Liverpool, the world’s largest business event in 2014, and the largest in the UK since the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Labour candidate Steve Rotheram has been MP for Liverpool Walton since 2010, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition since 2015, and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, while Conservative candidate Tony Caldeira is a businessman and was candidate for Mayor of Liverpool in 2012 and 2016.
All six local authorites are under Labour control.

The EU referendum resulted in Liverpool voting 58.2% to stay, followed by Sefton at 51.9% and Wirral at 51.7%.
St Helens and Halton topped the leave votes at 58% and 57.4% followed by Knowsley at 51.6%.

And lastly, Greater Manchester – whose enterprise culture has evolved over two centuries, when unplanned urbanisation brought on by a boom in textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution, resulted in it becoming the world’s first industrialised city, achieving city status in 1853.
The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894, creating the Port of Manchester and linking the city to sea, 30 odd miles to the west.
Manchester Liverpool Road railway station was the world’s first inter-city passenger railway station.

Its fortunes declined after the Second World War, owing to deindustrialisation, but the IRA bombing in 1996 led to extensive investment and regeneration.
In 2014, the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network ranked Manchester as a beta world city, the highest-ranked British city apart from London.

A region of 2.7m people boasts an outstanding university science base, strong flows of inward investment, Europe’s largest industrial estate at Trafford Park, a world class airport – and a global sports brand at Old Trafford *cough* 😉

It is the birthplace of the world’s first stored-program computer in 1948, and where scientists first split the atom – and more recently where graphene was rediscovered, isolated, and characterised in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester, and whose work resulted in them both winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”

Nine out of Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities are Labour-controlled – three of which, Manchester, Trafford and Stockport voted 60.4%, 57.7% and 52.3% to stay in the EU.
Wigan, Tameside and Oldham at 63.9%, 61.1% and 60.9% topped the Leave votes, followed by Rochdale, Bolton, Salford and Bury at 60.1%, 58.3%, 56.8% and 54.1%.

Andy Burnham, Liverpool-born two-time party leadership loser, who has very recently stood down as an MP in the expectation of mayoral victory – and widely seen as an ‘unprincipled flip-flopper’ – has only lately paid lip-service to city-region devolution and the Northern Powerhouse, and has never in his life had anything to do with enterprise.

If there’d been any beer on tap in our local polling station, a whole bunch of us would likely still be there now nattering. “Why is a Liverpudlian even standing for Manchester, when Liverpool’s on the ticket?” was the theme.

Manchester’s Conservative candidate Sean Anstee (council leader in the conurbation’s sole Tory borough, Trafford) is already a respected and well-networked player in the devolution project. The odds have been against him. but they surely ought to have narrowed when common sense suggests choosing a mayor who favours prosperity and connect to power, over an opportunist carpetbagging has-been.

Now that George Osborne has seemingly abandoned the Manchester-centred Powerhouse for, among other distractions, the London-centred Printworks, the region clearly needs a champion who is trusted by local business leaders and has access to Downing Street. A victorious Burnham is more likely to be left sulking in his stronghold, as he has absolutely no claim to a working relationship with Theresa May – particularly if the Tories win West Midlands and shower it with investment as a reward.

These six elections have given voters the opportunity to pick 1st and 2nd choices – and I have a sense there’ll be many an unsuspecting blooper among the ballot papers.

Oh and Greater Manchester results won’t even begin to be counted until tomorrow morning, under seal until 9am I’ve been reliably informed.

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