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Mayor: race roaring into life, but too close to call

Mayor: race roaring into life, but too close to call

🕔06.Apr 2017

The race to be the first Mayor of the West Midlands “roared into life” this week, according to the Birmingham Mail’s Neil Elkes.

Chamberlain Files can reveal that we were supplying the region’s leading local government correspondent with a small supply of beer in the immediate aftermath of the Birmingham Public Debate as he filed copy. Attracting public interest in the Mayoral race is an unforgiving business (as we know only too well here) and requires a degree of artistic/journalistic licence.

Nevertheless, Neil’s right – things are slowly beginning to rev up in what the WMCA describes as an historic election.

This week, Professor John Curtice – the UK’s foremost polling expert – has been telling the media that the West Midlands is too close to call – and also suggesting anything other than a win for Siôn Simon will put further pressure of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The third of four Public Debates – organised by Urban Communications, the sister firm of Files publisher RJF Public Affairs – was staged at the Birmingham Hippodrome earlier this week. The event was run in partnership with the Birmingham Mail, with the support of WMCA, the University of Warwick, DanceXchange, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and Centre for Cities.

As Neil reports, there were more signs of dividing lines between the candidates – not least on the issue of housing. Siôn Simon, the Labour candidate, has been trying to carve out a distinctive position on land policies, committing to a regional spatial plan to take effect as quickly as possible.

On Tuesday night, he had Solihull in his sights:

People want new housing but don’t want it on their green belt, they want it on someone else’s green belt.

They want the land but don’t want the cost of cleaning up dirty land. We need to start those difficult conversations.

And the most difficult conversation is with Solihull – which has the great bulk of the wealth and a huge pressure on land and has very expensive land.

There’s a huge resistance to development on the green belt and resistance to ceding planning powers.

Other issues debated including air pollution, the diversity of the WMCA’s leadership, engagement and turnout at the election, support for the creative industries and the differences between the candidates and their national parties.

All the candidates are committed to leaving no stone unturned (or some such meaningless phrase) when it comes to winning the bid to make a new home for Channel 4. However, the candidates – not wishing to lose any possible votes – are hedging their bets on whether the channel would be best suited to Birmingham, Coventry or even the NEC. Earlier this week, Mr Street used the opportunity of a visit by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to press the case for Birmingham.

The WMCA was based on so-called three-LEP geography. Asked at the end of the Birmingham Public Debate whether they would envisage three local enterprise partnerships remaining at the conclusion of their first term, only former GBSLEP chair Andy Street gave enthusiastic backing to the prospect of three separate bodies being still intact.

You can find a full recap together with videos over at the Birmingham Mail and its Facebook page.

In today’s Birmingham Post, Neil reflects on the answers candidates gave when asked about their cultural interests and abilities. Personally, I’m still trying to remove the image of Andy Street salsa dancing – very badly by his own admission – from my mind.

Beverley Neilsen issued a statement today predicting that her Conservative rival, Andy Street, risks a “political showdown” with council leaders around the WMCA Board table if he becomes Mayor and does not accept the findings of the Land Commission.

She said:

We understand why Mr Street is obsessed with ‘protecting the Green Belt’, because it’s what his voters in Sutton Coldfield and Solihull want to hear, but he is heading for a political showdown with the WMCA if he stubbornly sticks to that position.

It would be a shambles if a Tory Mayor was elected, and then immediately told his new employers that he fundamentally disagreed with its housing strategy.

The full list of candidates for the election on 4th May has been announced with Graham Stevenson, standing for the Communist Party of Britain, alongside the established set of candidates.

The official election information booklet has been published with addresses from each of the six candidates. You can find it on our West Mids Elects site (here) ahead of it dropping through letter boxes in the next couple of weeks.

Two manifestos have been published over the last week, with James Burn (Green) promising a mayoralty with “no one left behind” whilst Siôn Simon (Labour) starts with his now familiar message of “let’s take back control of the West Midlands from London.”

We’ll publish more detailed assessments of the two manifestos on the Chamberlain Files in the coming days. You can find all the published manifestos on the West Mids Elects site here.

The Mayor will start work on the 8th May, on a salary of £79,000.

Meanwhile, the WMCA starts its hunt for a permanent chief executive today. It is not clear if the Acting Chief Executive, Martin Reeves, will apply for the job or be (figuratively) sent back to Coventry to continue in his day job as CEO of the city’s Council.

The WMCA Board meets tomorrow, with Cllr Bob Sleigh still in the chair until the Mayor takes office next month.

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