The most intriguing aspect of today’s local elections is the contest for the new West Midlands Mayoralty. In normal times, you’d have this marked down as a shoe-in for Labour—they have 21 of the region’s 28 MPs and control six of its seven local authorities.
But these aren’t normal political times and the Tories have run a vigorous campaign with a strong candidate, the former John Lewis boss Andy Street. Labour, by contrast, have an underwhelming candidate, the MP turned MEP Sion Simon—whose greatest distinction is his time as a restaurant reviewer for this magazine. Labour have run a distinctly low-energy campaign in the West Midlands, relying on the local party machine to try and get him over the line in what they calculate will be a low turnout election.
If Street wins, it will show—as I said in the magazine last week —the electoral potency of Mayite Conservatism. For Street is not a classic laissez-faire Conservative but rather someone who talks about the good that comes of the government and the private sector working together. He cites his time running the Local Enterprise Partnership as crucial experience for the job. He says that his politics are based around May’s desire for an ‘economy that works for everyone’.
If Street wins, he won’t have much trouble getting things out of Downing Street; both May and her Birmingham born chief of staff Nick Timothy were keen for him to run. But he’ll also show if business people, who have traditionally struggled to make the transition to politics in this country, can succeed in these new mayoral roles.