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WMCA vice-chair election – all the runners and riders

WMCA vice-chair election – all the runners and riders

🕔04.Apr 2016

The unexpected and tragic death of Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper has opened up a vacancy at the top of the new West Midlands Combined Authority.

And while understandably no one wants to to talk about it at the moment, one of the first things WMCA must do as it approaches its June 1 starting date is elect a vice-chair to replace Cllr Cooper.

The job will go to a Labour councillor for reasons of balance since WMCA is chaired by the Conservative leader of Solihull Council Bob Sleigh.

Cllr Steve Eling, the acting leader of Sandwell Council, may be regarded as too inexperienced to replace Cllr Cooper as WMCA vice-chair.

There are four likely candidates from the constituent authority members of the combined authority – John Clancy, the leader of Birmingham council; Roger Lawrence, the leader of Wolverhampton council; Ann Lucas, the leader of Coventry council and Pete Lowe, the leader of Dudley council.

The vice-chair is far more than a figurehead, and the successful candidate could eventually become deputy to the elected metro mayor in 2017, working with the mayor to develop further the region’s £1.2 billion devolution deal with the Government.

While in public, at least until after Cllr Cooper’s funeral, no one is speculating about the job, in private a leading politician has told Chamberlain Files that this could be Labour’s “John Smith moment”, a reference to Tony Blair’s single-minded campaign to replace Mr Smith which began immediately after the party leader’s death.

Of the four probable vice-chair candidates, Roger Lawrence would appear least likely to want the job. It was claimed, and not denied, that Cllr Lawrence turned down the chairmanship of the shadow WMCA at an early stage.

That leaves three very different contenders – the long serving and experienced Ann Lucas from Coventry; Pete Lowe, who has been leader at Dudley since November 2014 and the new kid on the block, John Clancy the leader of Birmingham council since December last year.

The other West Midlands council leaders might find reasons to give the job to Lucas.

Coventry council chief executive Martin Reeves has recently been appointed interim chief executive of WMCA, and would find the direct link with Lucas useful. However, public support for WMCA is lower in Coventry than elsewhere in the West Midlands and the prospect of Cllr Lucas playing a prominent role might not go down too well, particularly among the council Labour group where she faces a likely leadership challenge in May.

If emotion means anything in politics, Cllr Clancy will get the vice-chair position. He was Cllr Cooper’s closest friend and has felt his death keenly. He has also been an outspoken supporter of the combined authority and wishes to push the Government for a better devolution deal.

On the negative side, Birmingham council has quite deliberately played a back seat role publicly as far as the combined authority is concerned for fear of arousing “Brum domination” fears in the Black Country and Coventry. It may be a tad too soon for Cllr Clancy to lay his hands on the vice chairmanship, and become WMCA chair in 2017.

Cllr Lowe might appeal as a status quo candidate, keeping the combined authority vice chairmanship in the Black Country. Although he is a relative newcomer in the West Midlands council leaders’ club, Lowe was the Labour candidate for Stourbridge at the 2015 General Election, where he trailed home almost 7,000 votes behind Conservative MP Margot James.

Who’s who at the West Midlands Combined Authority:

Constituent authorities

Non-constituent authorities

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