The result of both races will be a test to Keir Starmer's leadership
The Conservatives appear increasingly confident of pulling off a hat-trick of election victories today – the Hartlepool by-election, plus the mayoral elections taking place in the Tees Valley and West Midlands. The mayoral contests have received relatively little attention compared to Hartlepool.
Although the results for both mayoral contests will not come in until late tomorrow evening and on Saturday, Keir Starmer has already been downplaying expectations, saying he would ‘carry the can’ if results go badly. Should Boris Johnson hold on to both mayoral seats with bigger majorities, it will prove to be a major test for Starmer’s leadership who has placed so much emphasis on winning back former Labour heartlands.
Andy Street has been West Midlands Mayor since 2017, and the former chief executive of John Lewis is battling it out against former Labour Cabinet minister Liam Byrne MP to retain his seat. It could be one of the closest run elections taking place today.
Street isn’t afraid of standing up to the government and has prioritised his business background in the campaign to shore up his credentials, vowing to improve the transport infrastructure for communities across the region as well as promising to build a 4.5 million square foot gigafactory which will build electric car batteries.
The latter is a key part of his campaign pledge, and Street says it will be crucial not only for the electric car industry but to the whole region. It’s been billed as a “gamechanger”, creating thousands of jobs which will bring in £2 billion of investment.
One poll has put Street ahead by 9 points, though Byrne’s campaign feels confident of a Labour win. He has fought a campaign in which the top priorities are “jobs, jobs, jobs” and also highlighted the underfunding of the police by the government and the need to tackle knife crime.
Embracing a green industrial revolution is key to his plans to increase the number of jobs in the region. He has vowed to turn the region’s former industrial sites into green industry zones, securing 200,000 new jobs in the process. Byrne has also set an ambitious target of making the West Midlands the UK’s first net-zero carbon region.
The West Mildlands race is microcosm of the wider political mood across the country and it is one of the traditional Labour strongholds where the Conservatives made gains in the 2019 election. How Labour performs will be a sign of just how much Starmer has won back voters.
The mayoral contest in Tees Valley is another race that will be closely watched by Starmer’s team. Currently being held by Conservative Ben Houchen, should Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs fail to win, it would provide a boost to Johnson – as a supposed show of faith in the government, given that incumbent administrations are used to losing support in council and by-elections.
Houchen has run a campaign built on bringing back steelmaking to Teeside as well as creating local jobs. He’s promised significant changes in three years, with his plans for the U.K.’s largest Freeport, for which a bid has already been submitted to the government, forming a key part of those changes. Houchen says it will lead to the creation of 18,000 jobs and boost the local economy by £3.2 billion
Jacobs on the other hand has said she want to give Teesiders the “hope – and the future they deserve”, promising a £20m ‘Tech Valley’ investment to boost the emerging digital and tech sectors to creating an ‘army of 10,000 workers trained in new green jobs of the future’. Jacobs has also pledged a £30m tourism investment fund to make the Tees a go-to destination for visitors.
Much like the race for the West Midlands mayoralty, the election is seen as a barometer of Britain’s political mood, and a test for how far the Labour party has come in winning back voters it lost in the 2019 election. It will also serve as a test of whether the government’s handling of the pandemic has hurt the Conservative Party’s fortunes.
But these mayoral campaigns are built on promises of jobs – not referndums on the Conservative government.
Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.
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