It’s Zac v Sadiq in London, but who’s in the race for West Midlands metro mayor?
Tory Zac Goldsmith will face Labour’s Sadiq Khan next year in battle to replace Boris Johnson as the mayor of London – a contest that is bound to be closely watched across the world. Both Goldsmith and Johnson will address the Conservative Party Conference today in Manchester.
Other English cities and regions are preparing to follow London down the same route, albeit reluctantly in many cases, their hands forced by George Osborne who has made it clear any significant shift to localism is dependent upon having a mayor.
The Chancellor has even thrown another carrot at council leaders, with cities and regions agreeing to have a mayor will be free to raise money for investment through extra business rates.
Electors in the West Midlands will probably be going to the polls in 2017 or 2018 to choose a metro mayor, if council leaders can broker a devolution deal with the Government. The proposals they have put forward rest entirely on devolved powers being divided among a mayor and the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Earlier in the year Chamberlain Files published a list of the candidates we thought could throw their names into the hat to become mayor of the West Midlands. It’s time to revisit that list with the proviso that the region’s political landscape is changing – the Conservatives may have won the General Election, but the Labour party is swinging sharply leftwards under Jeremy Corbyn and thousands of new, enthused, grassroots members.
Labour and Conservative party members will ultimately choose a candidate for what will be seen as the most important directly elected position outside of the mayor of London. Independent candidates may also emerge.
Here, we think, are the possible runners and riders:
Andy Street (Con)
Managing director of John Lewis, chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, lifelong Tory and former President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, if Street indicated he wanted to stand for mayor you would think the Government would bite his hand off.
Chamberlain Files has it on good authority that Mr Street is indeed toying with the idea. “He certainly has not ruled it out”, a friend admitted.
If Street is planning a bid, recent events may certainly go in his favour. The opening of the refurbished New Street Station and Grand Central shopping centre, with a John Lewis store, has been greeted with enthusiasm in Birmingham and wider afield.
With his background in business and the success he has made of GBSLEP, Street would be a serious contender and could be the type of Tory able to appeal to voters in the West Midlands industrial, and generally Labour, heartlands. Born in 1963, Street has West Midlands connections having attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham.
Paul Kehoe (Ind)
It’s rumoured the straight-talking chief executive of Birmingham Airport may be interested in the mayoral job – he’s not denied Chamberlain Files’ report that he is considering standing.
Kehoe’s star has been rising at pace since he took over at the airport six years ago. He’s overseen the long-awaited runway extension, boosted passenger numbers beyond expectations and presided over huge improvements to the infrastructure with a new passenger terminal and control tower.
Never one afraid to speak his mind Kehoe infuriated the green lobby by attempting to position Birmingham as “Heathrow’s third runway” – as in why bother to build another runway at Heathrow when Birmingham’s just up the road and will be even closer when HS2 arrives?
Kehoe, already chair of Marketing Birmingham, will have the perfect platform to launch a political career, should he so wish, when he becomes President of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce later this year.
Liam Byrne (Lab)
If Andy Street’s star is in the ascendency, Liam Byrne’s political career seems to have stalled. The MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill found himself surplus to requirements in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, and his constituency could disappear following boundary changes before the next General Election.
He has plenty of Government experience. He was Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Gordon Brown, famously leaving an ‘all the money is gone’ note to his successor. He’s also been a police and immigration minister and has a reputation as a Labour moderniser and policy wonk, although his robust views on controlling immigration and support for New Labour haven’t always gone down well with colleagues.
He is also a former Minister for the West Midlands, which could be seen as valuable experience for the metro mayor job. Last year he published a paper setting out proposals for metro mayor powers, and in the past has expressed an interest in running for mayor of Birmingham.
Could he get the Labour nomination? It seems unlikely that Mr Byrne will be flavour of the month following the Corbyn revolution.
Siôn Simon (Lab)
It’s difficult to imagine that Simon wouldn’t have a crack at becoming metro mayor. He sacrificed his ministerial career by resigning as MP for Erdington in 2010 in order to campaign to become the first elected mayor of Birmingham. That didn’t work out after electors voted against having a mayor in a referendum in 2012.
Mr Simon has since become a West Midlands MEP and retains all of the right connections to run for metro mayor if he so wished, not least a long friendship with Tom Watson, who is now deputy Labour leader, which could prove to be most convenient for Mr Simon.
Caroline Spelman (Con)
A former Environment Secretary and Tory party chairman, Spelman has been MP for Meriden since 1997. Now on the backbenches, Spelman may conclude that fresh challenges are required.
She would be seen by many Tories as a safe pair of hands and “unlikely to frighten the horses”, but is Spelman ambitious enough to campaign to become her party’s West Midlands metro mayor candidate?
Sajid Javid (Con)
The Business Secretary and MP for Bromsgrove looks set for a long parliamentary career. However, if an ambition to become Tory party leader is dashed, he might be tempted to look elsewhere. He has recently begun to take great interest in the West Midlands having declared himself unofficial minister for the Midlands Engine, which is the region’s version of Northern Powerhouse.
Possibly a very serious contender for the Conservative mayoral nomination, but only if the combined authority stretches to take in rural parts of Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire giving him a far better chance of being elected.
Bob Sleigh (Con)
The leader of Solihull council is a new name on our list. He’s been instrumental in persuading Solihull’s sceptical conservative councillors to get on the devolution train in partnership with Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country councils, and has been rewarded with the chairmanship of the shadow combined authority. Must stand a chance of getting the Tory mayoral selection, if he is interested in running.
Sir Albert Bore (Lab)
The veteran leader of Birmingham city council is a long-time supporter of elected mayors. He also knows as much about the political machinations of the West Midlands as anyone.
He is 70 this year, but friends say his ambitions remain undiminished. Alas, any hope he may have of becoming West Midlands mayor could be dashed through reputational damage resulting from the Kerslake Review which exposed poor leadership over many years at Birmingham city council.
Darren Cooper (Lab)
The leader of Sandwell council has been powerful in cajoling his fellow West Midlands council leaders into getting a combined authority off the ground. Cooper forced the hands of Birmingham and Solihull, threatening to look to Staffordshire and Telford form a combined authority if progress could not be made.
Cooper, significantly, is close to Tom Watson, and cannot be ruled out should he wish to put himself forward for the mayoral selection, although he may conclude it is far better to remain leader at Sandwell and vice chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority.
Lord Digby Jones (Ind)
The former CBI leader told the BBC earlier in the year:
It’s high time that somebody, an advocate, really pushed it and you have got to have clout. You have to fight down in Westminster and Whitehall with these guys, everybody else.
Jones’ time as a trade minister under Gordon Brown’s “Government of all the talents” was short-lived and not particularly successful. He cropped up during the 2015 General Election writing an open letter to Ed Miliband telling the Labour leader to “stop sneering at wealth creators”.
Outspoken, flamboyant, a colourful character in a monochrome political world, Digby might just be the type of independent candidate to generate a substantial following. Will he put his name forward? Can he be bothered?
Khalid Mahmood (Lab)
Would Labour ever select a BME candidate to run for West Midlands mayor? Mahmood, MP for Perry Barr since 2001, might fancy a crack at the job. He has been an outspoken critic of Birmingham city council’s poor governance and often emerges as a national spokesperson in Parliament on Muslim matters.
Salma Yaqoob (Ind)
A former leader and vice-chair of the Respect party and a Birmingham city councillor from 2006 to 2011, Yaqoob has often been mentioned as a candidate for high office, but her career appears to have stalled. She came close to defeating Labour’s Roger Godsfiff in Hall Green at the 2010 General Election, but has since quit Respect. Although many Muslims would like her to seek public office again, there is little sign that she intends to do so.
John Hemming (Lib Dem)
Liberal Democrats aren’t thick on the ground in the West Midlands. Hemming, former MP for Birmingham Yardley who lost his seat at the General Election, is a highly successful businessman with no pressing need to pursue another political career.
But if his party is looking for a West Midlands mayoral candidate, Hemming could be the man.
He is a former deputy leader of Birmingham city council, and made a name for himself in Parliament campaigning against “secret” family courts. His interesting personal life – he once entered a love rat of the year contest – hasn’t harmed his career so far. And he certainly has the money to bankroll a mayoral contest.
Lord Mike Whitby (Con)
We are into rank outsider territory here, but the former Birmingham city council leader has never been less than ambitious and might regard himself as a metro mayor contender. Whether party leaders would see it the same way is doubtful. Whitby’s time at the House of Lords has been blemished by claims from the whips about poor attendance.
Waheed Saleem (Lab)
The never knowingly under-quoted former chair of the Lunar Society and serial non-executive portfolio holder expressed disappointment at being left off our initial list of possible candidates.
The Labour party member and ex-councillor in Walsall has written about his support for the mayoral system. Could he get the Labour nomination?
Supporters of the ever-ambitious Birmingham city councillor were astonished their man could have been left off the Chamberlain Files initial list of potential mayoral candidates.
Zaffar did well in the annual Labour group elections and emerged as chair of the corporate resources scrutiny committee, which has a remit to delve into the council’s dire financial situation. Whether Zaffar has the experience or the clout to stand any chance of securing the Labour nomination to run for West Midlands mayor is open to question.
Gossips say he is planning a bid to become the next West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, but talk of a joint ticket with deputy police commissioner Yvonne Mosquito was sharply dismissed by Ms Mosquito.
The Labour MP for Edgbaston since 1997 put herself forward as a candidate for directly elected mayor of Birmingham in 2011, but her hopes were dashed when Brummies voted decisively against having a mayor in a referendum.
She has a knack for generating headlines. Last year she told the House of Commons that Birmingham city council could go bankrupt in 18 months. It hasn’t, yet.
Could she get Labour’s nomination to run for West Midlands mayor? She has the profile and cannot be dismissed out of hand, but it the party’s shift to the left following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader may make it more difficult for Mrs Stuart to get the support she would need.
*Two candidates have fallen off our initial list.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has said it is highly unlikely he will seek to become Labour’s mayoral candidate.
Former Birmingham Labour councillor Mike Olley, now manager of the Westside Business Improvement District, says he is just “a simple businessman” and takes no direct interest in day-to-day politics.
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