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Why the mayor of Greater Birmingham could be a Tory

Why the mayor of Greater Birmingham could be a Tory

🕔06.Nov 2014

The possibility of a metro mayor leading a Greater Birmingham authority raises a tricky question: which political party would be in charge? Analysis by Chamberlain Files suggests the Conservatives could narrowly beat Labour in a close race. Paul Dale reports. 

Based on the 2010 General Election results, Greater Birmingham would have a Tory mayor by a whisker.

While Labour can be expected to pile up votes in Birmingham and most of the Black Country, the Conservatives gain in Solihull and, crucially, the rural areas of Staffordshire and Worcestershire covered by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.

Sensitive talks about forming a Greater Birmingham or West Midlands combined authority are underway and an announcement is expected soon. The exact geography of the authority is yet to be determined, but the GBSLEP issue is certain to tip the political balance.

Unlike Labour controlled Greater Manchester, which will be the first combined authority to get a metro mayor in 2017, the West Midlands is far more marginal territory split between Labour and the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats trailing home a long way behind in third place.

This is a difficult issue for the mainly Labour council leaders of the West Midlands metropolitan councils who are attempting to hammer out a deal. With the Government insisting that combined authorities must reflect a region’s economic geography and travel to work pattern, it seems inevitable that the area covered by GBSLEP must be included in any combined authority.

That means extending the Greater Birmingham Authority to include East Staffordshire, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Tamworth, Bromsgrove, Wyre Forest and Redditch – where in the 2010 election there were almost twice as many Conservative votes as Labour votes.

At the 2010 General Election Labour polled almost 170,000 votes in Birmingham. The Conservatives managed 116,000. In the Black Country boroughs there were 117,000 Conservative votes and 138,000 for Labour.

But the picture changes dramatically when the impact of Tory Solihull, Meriden and the GBSLEP territory is taken into account. The inclusion of Coventry and Warwickshire in a West Midlands combined authority would have a neutral impact, with Labour and Tory support split evenly.

The 2010 election results for the West Midlands councils, the GBSLEP area and Coventry and Warwickshire gave the Conservatives 576,000 and Labour 542,000, which means that the Conservatives would win a mayoral election on a first past the post basis.

It is likely, therefore, that a cabinet consisting of the leaders of councils across a Greater Birmingham combined authority would be of a different political complexion to the mayor. The GBCA cabinet would generally have a clear Labour majority, but the Conservatives would always have a fighting chance of winning a mayoral election.

The forecasts assume, of course, that people taking part in a mayoral poll will cast their vote along party lines. It should also be stressed that 2010 was a relatively good year for the Conservatives in the West Midlands and a poor year for Labour, particularly in Birmingham.

Sir Albert Bore, the Labour leader of Birmingham city council, is heading negotiations with Black Country and Solihull council leaders about the shape of a combined authority. Sir Albert has said the GBSLEP councils must be included.

Darren Cooper, the Labour leader of Solihull Council, has emerged as a leading Black Country supporter of a combined authority. He set a Christmas deadline for a deal and told a BBC Midlands Today devolution programme ‘More Power to the Midlands’: “Let’s just do it”.

However, hopes of an early announcement appeared to be dashed after Solihull Council leader Bob Sleigh told the Birmingham Post that he had not been involved in any talks about setting up a combined authority. He added that it was unlikely a combined authority could go ahead without Solihull’s involvement.

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