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‘I can win in West Midlands and change politics for ever’, Street tells Tory conference

‘I can win in West Midlands and change politics for ever’, Street tells Tory conference

🕔02.Oct 2016

Andy Street launched his West Midlands mayoral campaign today with an upbeat speech at the Tory conference in Birmingham, claiming that the Conservatives were breathing down Labour’s neck and could win a historic victory next May.

Mr Street said he required only a four per cent swing based on the 2015 General Election results and that the metro mayor election “can change British politics for ever”.

Speaking at the opening session of the conference in front of Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Street said his guiding aim was to make the West Midlands the “regional economic powerhouse of Britain”.

He said his mission would be “to enable everyone to make the most of their opportunities” and added: “That is how social mobility is delivered, and it’s the hallmark of a harmonious society.”

Promising a “moderate, inclusive and tolerant campaign”, he told the conference: “We can win here, we will win here. So we really can do it, and so that’s why I’m going to leave a job I love, to lead the place I love.”

Voters from the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils – Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Sandwell, Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton – will vote on 4th May for the region’s first metro mayor, who will chair the combined authority.

Previous elections across the same area for a police commissioner have resulted in a comfortable win for Labour candidates. However, there are fears of a low turn-out since the metropolitan authorities do not have council elections in 2017.

Tory hopes have been boosted by Labour’s poor showing in national opinion polls and, realistically, the West Midlands is the only one of next year’s metro mayor elections in England that the Conservatives have a chance of winning.

Mr Street, until recently managing director of John Lewis and a former chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, will be up against Labour MEP Siôn Simon and Beverley Nielsen for the Liberal Democrats.

In his speech Mr Street made much play of his local links – he was brought up in Birmingham – and of his business credentials:

I first went to school down the road…. I had my first job interview a stone’s throw away from here and my mum and dad still live in the same house I grew up in. This region has formed me. It’s my heritage and it is fundamental to what made me a Conservative.

And after 30 years in business, this place is what’s drawn me to frontline politics, to stand before you today at a defining moment for my home region. Make no mistake this is a region going places. You will have seen the cranes on the skyline.

There was a nod to his career at John Lewis – he had to step down after being selected by the Conservatives:

Normally at this time of year I’m thinking of John Lewis and the creation of our Christmas ad – the bears, the hares, the penguins…the old man on the moon. This year that’s not my concern. There are more important matters for me.

Many have already asked, are you really giving up all that for politics? The answer is yes. Precisely because we are at a defining moment for my region.

Our Prime Minister and her team see the potential of this region. They believe in devolution and understand that the best answers for the West Midlands will come from the people of the West Midlands.

And for me, I could not see this opportunity pass by. And most importantly I could not let it fall into Labour’s hands by default. The stakes here are too high.

Mr Street described the West Midlands as “a place with enterprise in its DNA” but added “for decades this region underperformed economically – and as a result the social consequences have been painful”.

He drew attention to his record at GBSLEP:

The results speak for themselves. Over the past six years, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area has delivered the fastest growth in private sector jobs in the UK. The West Midlands has had the best export performance driven by our resurgent local manufacturing firms – indeed we are the only region in Britain to enjoy a trade surplus with China.

And last year, there were more businesses born here in Birmingham than anywhere outside London. So the choice is stark. Do we go back to Labour’s old way of doing things – where they think they know best. Or do we liberate our great regions and their talent?

There was an inevitable reference to Birmingham’s greatest political hero:

The lesson of history, indeed the lesson of Joseph Chamberlain – business man and Mayor of this city – is that social challenges can only be met when everybody shares the fruits of economic progress.

A partnership of our cities. A partnership of our communities. A partnership of opportunity.

Mr Street promised to fight hard for the best deal from the Government if he became mayor, and to get behind Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games bid.

Improving public transport would be a key priority, Mr Street added:

A successful region is one which is connected in every sense – just look at transport. I’m pleased that the government is backing us with the huge investment in HS2. But when that railway opens, it’ll be quicker to get from London to Birmingham, than the 9 miles from this hall to Dudley.

But is this a surprise when spending on transport infrastructure in the West Midlands is only £266 per head compared with over £1,800 in London. 7 times as much – as Mayor, addressing this imbalance will be a priority

So if transport is important, raising the aspirations of our young people is even more critical. And as mayor, my mission will be to enable everyone to make the most of their opportunities. That is how social mobility is delivered, and it’s the hallmark of a harmonious society.

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