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Flag waving Simon seeks to take control of the West Midlands

Flag waving Simon seeks to take control of the West Midlands

🕔22.Jan 2017

“Taking back control of the West Midlands” is the rallying cry of the Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor. In an address to party members, as well as a watching media, Siôn Simon gave a passionate oration of his love for and belief in the West Midlands as a region of “genius”, ranging from Steam Engines to Shakespeare and driverless cars to Punjabi music in the modern day.

We are still the workshop of the world and we are leading the world again.

The initial section built on the opening he gave at a Resolution Foundation event, but was longer and delivered from a written script.

Look from space and the English Midlands is glowing.

In the contest between the two main candidates, with powers and policies thin on the ground, the battle to impress on who knows and loves the region best could be a big feature. It might be a case of Mr Street’s shine versus Mr Simon’s raw performance.

So proud….I love this place.

But Mr Simon also suggested that most people on the streets of the West Midlands would not loudly celebrate their region. He was effectively suggesting his mayoralty would restore a sense of pride.

By taking back the power, we can put back the pride.

Siôn Simon has adopted a political language that was incredibly effective for the Leave campaign in last year’s EU referendum. Whilst not referring to the campaign, or to UKIP, he said:

I am not ashamed to fly the English flag in the West Midlands.

He did not say whether the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, was an admirer of his latest campaign material.










Chamberlain Files is not currently aware of any plans for the campaign mantra to morph into ‘Make the West Midlands Great Again.’

The launch took place at the GTG Training Academy in Willenhall. Staged on Friday morning, it also meant that most Labour council leaders were not there to support him, but heading towards the WMCA Board Meeting in Birmingham’s Council House – a meeting Mr Simon aims to chair in the future.

Cllr John Clancy, leader of Birmingham city council, did decide his time was better spent supporting Mr Simon in the Black Country. Labour MPs Emma Reynolds, Liam Byrne (campaign chair), Khalid Mahmood and Jack Dromey had front row seats. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and close friend of Siôn Simon, was unable to attend due to being poorly at home.

They decimated our base, hollowed out our independence and took away our rights to run our own place.

The essential argument of Mr Simon was that the Tories “have got it in for us” and “they don’t care about this place.” Since 1979, the Conservatives have, he claimed, centralised and taken more and more power.

Siôn Simon omitted to mention it happens to be a Conservative government bringing in Metro Mayors, albeit with limited powers, as part of a devolution drive kicked off by George Osborne, Greg Clark and Lord Heseltine.

This is where we start to stand up for ourselves.

Most leading Labour councillors in the area are not fans of directly elected mayors and it is debatable as to whether Labour would have pushed for mayors and devolution deals if the party had been in power at any time over the last six years.

Just give us our fair share of the national pie and let us sort our own problems out.

Mr Simon seemed to indicate that as well as powers over transport, economic development and housing he would be pushing for the ability to control education, health and justice.

By the way, we need a seat at those Brexit negotiations.

The Labour MEP also pushed his claim for a seat at the ‘Brexit negotiating table.’ It was not immediately clear whether he envisaged that in the form of a Cabinet sub-committee place or joint ministerial committee slot with any rights to vote or exercise a veto.

Even the UKIP candidate, Pete Durnell, is not seeking a ‘seat at the table’ over Brexit negotiations. He indicated to Chamberlain Files this week it was a meaningless demand.

Mr Simon understandably poked fun at David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, who earlier this week promised to summon the mayors of the north to York, but did not immediately make clear if the West Midlands fitted that description.

We, here, will find better solutions ourselves which will work for us in our communities which we understand than have ever been dreamt up by men in glass offices in Westminster who think the Lickey Hills are in Wyoming.

It’s a long way from Whitehall to Willenhall – and what gets lost on that road is respect.

Mr Simon set out his rationale for a bigger say in the Brexit negotiations, outlining the scale of the regional economy on an international level and the structural differences in terms of skills and sectors to other nations and regions in the UK.

Let’s fix the Barnett formula.

Whilst Siôn Simon’s Brexit seat demand lacked clarity, he made a bold claim to tear up the long-standing model of distributing money from HM Treasury to the nations. He said that it was not the Barnett funding formula that was holding the union together, rather a “1,000 years of shared history, culture and values.”

He stated that the region should no longer put up with its people being treated as second class citizens. The Scots, he said, would not want anything other than fairness for everyone.

The Labour candidate has already attracted some national media attention for his call, but given the state of affairs with the devolved nations (Scots demanding to remain in the Single Market, threatening a second referendum; Northern Ireland’s government having collapsed) and UK Government commitments – or “vows”- Mr Simon must know it is likely to fall on very deaf ears.

It was a launch light on mayoral commitments.

There was no mention of Mr Simon’s controversial policy on a “government-backed deal to take regional control of the M6 toll and make it free.” However, Chamberlain Files asked the Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, a fellow Labour politician and supporter of Mr Simon, whether he backed the policy this week.

Mr Jamieson said:

The M6 Toll would be very costly if we had to buy it back.

If I were the Mayor and I had £1.8Bn, I wouldn’t be spending it on buying a Toll Road which is running rather well at the moment. I think I’d be looking at one or two other projects before that.

Mr Jamieson has recently focused much political energy on his inquiry into the response to serious accidents on the M6 and how different agencies, including the Police, work together.

It’s not part of the solution to solving what happened last February or dealing with any other serious incident….

The vast proportion of traffic on the Toll, which I found quite striking to learn, doesn’t travel the full distance of the Toll. It actually goes part way and cuts off. So, unless you solve the problems of the A38, A5 and other roads…all you do is transfer the jam from the one road to the Toll.

What should be in the gift of the Mayor is to use it in a major situation like a proposed or expected 24 hour closure of the M6.

The question…which we have to ask ourselves is: can we carry on putting that amount of traffic on the M6 anyway? A lot of it going on the M6 is cutting off going into the West Midlands… We’ve got to find some serious public transport alternatives for people.

Mr Jamieson later sought to clarify his remarks:

Bringing powers to the West Midlands should be a key priority of the new Mayor.

Anything that helps the traffic move is welcome but needs to be prioritised carefully.

It is not part of the solution on its own, but part of a suite of solutions that could make a real difference to the West Midlands.

In the interview, which will be covered in more detail on the Files next week, Mr Jamieson went on to praise the man bidding to join him with a region-wide mandate:

Siôn brings enormous experience of life outside of governance; he brings experience as a member of parliament; he brings it as a minister, he brings it as a MEP and his connections within Europe…his international connections are going to be highly helpful.

However, he also had positive words for the Conservative candidate:

Mr Street is a very capable and very personable man who I’ve got on with very well. After the election, he’ll have no problem finding another job – even John Lewis may want him back!

Asked if he would work with Mr Street, he said:

Whoever is elected, I will work with them.

Liam Byrne MP concluded Siôn Simon’s launch event in front of an enthusiastic crowd of Labour members, making clear how the campaign will position Mr Street:

We’ve got a choice to make in this election between whether we want someone who knows this region, loves this region, and will fight for this region – or whether we want Theresa May’s ambassador from London running our affairs here in the Midlands.

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