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Digby Jones ‘seriously considering’ running for West Mids metro mayor

Digby Jones ‘seriously considering’ running for West Mids metro mayor

🕔08.Mar 2016

Next year’s West Midlands metro mayor election could be enlivened by outspoken former CBI chief Lord Digby Jones, who is seriously considering running for the post, writes Paul Dale.

Lord Jones, born in Birmingham, who has spent much of his life championing both the city and the region, is giving a mayoral bid “much thought” and is expected to announce his decision soon.

If he does stand, it will be as an independent candidate. He served for a short period as Business Minister in Gordon Brown’s government, but refused to join Labour much to the consternation of the party’s MPs.

As director-general of the CBI from 2000 to 2006, and since then, he has kept any personal political preferences hidden, although all three main political parties have at times attempted to court him, and he was approached by the Conservatives about standing for mayor of London.

Lord Jones has for years castigated the party political system, which he regards as holding back effective decision making. His name has also been linked recently with plans by a reclusive Scottish millionaire to set up a £6.5 million fund to provide an Independent candidate in every constituency at the 2020 General Election.

Confirmation that Lord Jones really is considering standing for elected mayor of the West Midlands came in an interview with the Wolverhampton Express and Star.

Speaking at the launch of two new academies in Dudley and Birmingham, he said he would only run for the position as an independent candidate. “I will not fight on a party ticket,” he added. “I will do it as a non-party person or not at all.”

Lord Jones added:

I’m internationally well connected, which would help with overseas investment and I’m known in London, which would help with banging the drum there.

I have given this a great deal of thought. I have very clear views and an independent spirit. I care enormously and the position is something I am seriously considering.

My heart says do it, my head says think about it. Of course someone would have to tell the wife.

There is an admission, however, that at the age of 60, the mayoral job may be a bit too demanding.

On the other hand I wonder if this is really a job for a 40-year-old, plus not standing for a political party means that all the money and power of Labour and the Conservatives would be against me.

Lord Jones reiterated his support for the West Midlands Combined Authority:

There’s a bus leaving town, and we’re either going to be on it or we’re not.

As a region it is time for everyone to bury their differences and come together. You’re going to go to London to get the money and you’re going to take the fight to the world and you’re going to win it.

If he does become mayor, he would like the WMCA cabinet to consist of politicians and experts from business and education.

Some of that cabinet would be political, and some would be appointed. Wouldn’t it be great to have a doctor in charge of the hospitals in the West Midlands or a headteacher in charge of education?

A Digby bid for mayor would certainly promote next year’s election in the eyes of the national media, where the possibility of the maverick business leader upsetting the party political apple cart would guarantee plenty of coverage for the West Midlands.

However, an online poll by the Wolverhampton Express and Star makes difficult reading for Lord Jones. Just one per cent of readers back him, with 58 per cent opting for Darren Cooper, the Labour leader of Sandwell council, and a little way behind, Siôn Simon, a West Midlands Labour MEP.

Lord Jones told the Mail on Sunday he was backing a mystery right-wing donor who is promising a £10,000 fund in each of the UK’s parliamentary constituencies to support independent candidates.

Claiming that there “is something rotten at the centre of our democratic system” Lord Jones added: “There are hundreds of constituencies across the UK where you could put up a sheep in red or blue and it would get in. This is a first step to ending such a state of affairs.”

His intervention did not impress the newspaper’s famously acerbic readers. One contributor to the comments page described him as a “toad”, while another said he resembled the comedian Chubby Brown.

Lord Jones has built up an impressive business portfolio over the years.

In addition to his role as a crossbencher in the House of Lords he is Chairman of Triumph Motorcycles Ltd, Non-Executive Deputy Chairman of the Unipart Expert Practices (UEP) Division, Corporate Ambassador to Aon Risk Solutions, Senior Adviser of Babcock International Group plc, Chairman of Grove Industries, Non-executive Chairman of Thatchers Cider Ltd, Corporate Adviser to JCB, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Argentex LLP, Chairman of Cell Therapy Ltd, Chairman of On-Logistics Ltd, Non-executive Director of Leicester Tigers plc, Senior Adviser to Harvey Nash plc, Business Adviser to Barberry Developments Ltd, Non-executive Director of Leicester Tigers plc, Corporate Ambassador to Ravenscroft Securities of Guernsey, Chairman of the Governors of Stratford-upon-Avon College, and Non-Executive Chairman of G-Labs Ltd.

Outspoken during his long and colourful career, here is a selection of the wit and wisdom of Lord Digby Jones:

I don’t do party politics, business is my constituency.

At the end of the day I don’t give in to ultimatums.

Ideologies of Old Europe have condemned hundreds of millions of people to the economic slow track while the United States has accelerated into the distance, with India and China coming up on the rails.

The trade unions put their members first and not the country. Labour is always in thrall to the unions. People keep banging on about cash for peerages, but the unions have bunged money to the government for years.

It is time the public sector unions stopped holding the government and the taxpayer to ransom, and got real on pensions.

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