BRINGING DOWN JOE.
The actual elections for the Mayors of the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and possibly Leeds, won’t be held until next year. However in effect the people who are likely to occupy these posts will be settled this summer. Labour has an iron grip on our big northern cities and unless a spectacular independent candidate comes forward, whoever Labour members choose, will win.
The party’s choices will be made very soon. Nominations close on June 10th and the results will be announced on August 4th. Whoever thought it was a good idea to run these selections when the European Union Referendum was on needs their head examining. Labour Party members should be concentrating on getting out the Remain vote amongst its supporters. Without them the referendum could be lost. I guess it reflects leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm for the Remain campaign.
However the battle for the Labour nomination has been truly joined. The Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham declared this week for the Greater Manchester job. Meanwhile in the Liverpool City Region, 2 MPs Steve Rotheram and Luciana Berger are set to throw down the gauntlet to Big Joe Anderson. There are also suggestions that Barry Grunwald, the leader of St Helens, might try and rally Labour members who want a candidate from outside Liverpool.
Joe Anderson has just started his second term as elected mayor of the city of Liverpool. He got a glowing report on his first period in office from the boss of the Heseltine Institute, Professor Michael Parkinson. However not everyone shares the academic’s views. Critics believe Joe brings a “my way or the highway” approach to the office. They worry about his ability to reach out to the people of Wirral, Southport and St Helens. They remember his petulance when Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral, was originally chosen as chair of the Liverpool City Region instead of him.
There has been a sense of inevitability about Anderson gliding from one mayoralty to the other and this is what Rotheram, Berger or Grunwald will have to combat.
Grunwald is quite a character, inheriting the feisty tradition of his predecessor Marie Rimmer. If he stands he will need to work hard to get name recognition across the city region, but he may be able to play on the fear that a Liverpool politician won’t represent the interests of the other councils.
Joe Anderson is now likely to have to battle with two MPs in the city. Steve Rotheram is the amiable MP for Walton and was a popular traditional mayor of the city some years ago. He has family and work connections with Knowsley, St Helens and Halton and is close to Andy Burnham. They would form a powerful alliance for a North West version of the Northern Powerhouse. Efforts may be made to depict him as a Corbynista. He is the leader’s Parliamentary Private Secretary but Rotheram nominated Burnham for leader and will want to portray himself as a good Labour man first and foremost.
Merseyside politics is very male and a female elected mayor would send out the sort of positive messages that Sadiq Khan’s election in London has done. Wirral South’s Alison McGovern was thinking of standing but is heavily identified with the Blairite Progress movement and is unlikely to run. So what about Luciana Berger? She is bright and personable but will have to deal with the, no doubt unfair, feeling that she is a posh outsider from London.
Sir Richard Leese recently expressed his disappointment at Tony Lloyd’s tenure as interim mayor of Greater Manchester. It is a blow for Lloyd as he seeks the post permanently. Leese is now believed to be backing Andy Burnham.
The Shadow Home Secretary’s decision to enter the contest is significant. He has Big Beast status in this municipal contest but it has caused dismay among some Labour supporters for what it says about Labour’s chances of winning the 2020 General Election. Burnham has decided that the only way he can be effective is to run Greater Manchester with no chance of becoming Home Secretary. He represents Leigh and so is not from the Manchester City elite. But will he be any match for the Bernstein/Leese partnership, the powerful Chief Executive/ Leader pairing that has dominated for 20 years?
The other candidate, Ivan Lewis, the Bury South MP, has made it clear that he thinks the devolution agenda has been too Manchester focused and concentrated on economic priorities at the expense of social ones.
It all means a high summer of high drama for Labour Party members in our big conurbations.