Today the results of the Labour selection for Greater Manchester’s Mayor have been announced.
For the past few months three Labour candidates have been vying for the position – Tony Lloyd, the interim GM mayor, was challenged by both Andy Burnham MP and Ivan Lewis MP for the role.
While each of the candidates have brought their own approach to the campaign one contestant has stood out overall – that is Leigh MP and Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham. He has brought to the table a radical and comprehensive vision for the region which has won over Labour in Greater Manchester, but the party will need to fight alongside him next year to prevent a UKIP or Conservative challenger dethroning Labour in England’s second city.
GM Mayoral Selection Results:
Andy Burnham – 3792 votes
Ivan Lewis – 1472 votes
Tony Lloyd – 2163 votes
Greater Manchester’s Mayor, elected by the public in 2017, will be responsible for a range of services across the city-region, ranging from transport and housing, to £6 billion of devolved Health and Social Care budgets.
Before Burnham decided to run, I had commented on why he would be the ideal candidate, due to his experience in the health service as Health Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary. During the campaign, Andy has emerged with a bold plan to transform Manchester’s NHS, including bringing social care back into the public sector, and the introduction of a city-wide bursary for those wishing to study nursing. Along with the other Labour candidates, he has made the case that the £6bn budget granted by Whitehall is not enough to address the current needs of the city’s overburdened hospitals.
Likewise, on both transport, and more generally, Burnham has said Westminster politics is not doing enough for the North, arguing there would be “riots in the streets” if Londoners had to put up with our failing transport service.
On housing – the city’s most controversial area of policy – he has been vocally critical of the current Manchester leadership. His plan is to use the housing fund of £300m, previously used to fund city centre developments, to improve social housing in all ten Greater Manchester boroughs. This, he says, will go a long way to removing the blight of homelessness from the city.
On top of the powers already being granted to Greater Manchester, Burnham has expressed his desire to take the Department for Work and Pensions budget into locally devolved hands and out of the government’s, in order to bring about a fairer welfare system, putting a stop to sanctions on the disabled.
While they are in some ways radical, Andy’s policy pledges have come from his time in government and opposition. They are policies which a reasonably committed Labour group of councils could hope to achieve in the next four years.
Besides a range of specific policies Burnham’s campaign bid has been focussed on opening up politics in Manchester. His primary opposition to the interim Mayor, Tony Lloyd, has been to question the closed-door workings of the current combined authority. This is the area in which he seems to have gained the most support from ordinary party members. He has pledged “mayoral question times” and an e-petition service to make the way the GMCA operates more accountable. This has proved favourable with the Labour membership, many of whom feel that too much priority currently goes into the city centre rather than Manchester’s outlying boroughs.
Burnham’s campaign has brought the Labour party together in many ways in Greater Manchester. His campaign team has featured members from a wide spectrum of the party, including fans of Jeremy Corbyn who admire him for remaining in the Shadow Cabinet - people who voted against Burnham in the leadership election of 2015. Despite some members on the right of the party feeling betrayed by his decision to stay on-board HMS Corbyn, Burnham’s decision to respect the members who voted against him has resonated well in pro-Corbyn Manchester. As a matter of fact, his campaign has been one of the few places in the country where the two sides – pro and anti-Corbyn – have been in the same room focussing on the same agenda.
Having won the Labour selection, the biggest challenge for Andy now is to fight a campaign in Manchester in 2017 for a party which has undergone such a huge crisis within its leadership.
Despite having a major advantage, the Labour Party would be naïve to imagine that next year’s Mayoral election will be a no-contest. There will be daring challenges from UKIP and the Conservative Party, as well as local independent candidates who will challenge Burnham for his Liverpudlian links, despite the fact that Andy has been a Greater Manchester MP for 15 years.
One person to take seriously now in relation to Greater Manchester is George Osborne. A Mayoral position would be ideal ground for his career if he is to challenge Theresa May from within his own party, without getting embroiled in a leadership struggle in Westminster. It is admittedly unlikely that Greater Manchester – a Labour stronghold in the North – would elect the Tory ex-chancellor, but it is a threat that Labour needs to take seriously.
The Tories may claim that Burnham’s ambition to nationalise health and social care, for example, is proof that Labour is once again on a track towards nationalisation. And they will undoubtedly try to seize the issue of the economy, re-iterating the party line that Labour cannot be trusted with public money.
Likewise, UKIP will have been bolstered by the Brexit vote and will seek to capitalise in Greater Manchester, where immigration forms a key issue in areas like Rochdale, Oldham and Bolton. Previously, UKIP have solely targeted white working class communities, and have spread hatred towards Asian and Muslim migrants. But there are also an increasingly significant proportion of those communities who now share their anti-immigration sentiment due to the numbers of Eastern Europeans who are now moving into their neighbourhoods.
Burnham has not shied away from this subject, and has argued that despite the benefits of migration, Labour has failed to listen to people who voted to leave the EU. He will need to strengthen this rhetoric and react realistically to complaints about immigration if he is not to lose substantial amounts of votes to UKIP; potential candidate Steven Woolfe has already made it clear that UKIP’s strategy should be to seize votes from Labour in the North.
Despite the challenges, Burnham’s campaign looks set for victory in 2017, due to the strong Labour support base in Greater Manchester. If trade unions and Labour itself support his campaign, we can be assured of not just a Labour Mayor, but an experienced leader in Greater Manchester committed to reducing inequality through a range of radical policies.
If, however, the party ignores the mayoral elections or downplays their importance, it could prove disastrous for Labour in the long run. Defeat in a series of mayoral elections would mark the end of Labour opposition to the Tory government, and pave the way for more destructive policies disproportionately affecting towns and cities in Northern England.
More articles by this commentator