On 4th May, 2017, voters in the West Midlands will head to the voting booth to decide who they wish to serve as the mayor of the West Midlands. The election comes off the head of a series of devolution grants made by the David Cameron administration, in a bid to give more power to local governments and areas. Consequently, the election for the mayor of the West Midlands will be a big election. Whoever wins will have broad powers to develop transport throughout the West Midlands, ensure that roads are properly managed, handle the housing issue within the West Midlands, and ensure that there is an appropriate funding for economic growth. So, all in all, some key powers will be under the purview of the West Midlands Mayor.
The main candidates for mayor are: Labour’s Sion Simon, Conservative Andy Street and Liberal Democrat Beverley Nielsen. All three candidates have some experience in leadership, be it Andy Street’s time leading John Lewis through several quarters of profit, Beverly Nielsen leading the Confederation of British Business, or Sion Simon’s time as an MP for Erdington in Birmingham. However, there is where the similarities between the candidates largely end.
Labour’s Sion Simon barely featured in mayoral debates until roughly two weeks ago. He has not released a manifesto stating what he would do if elected to the position of mayor, and seems to be counting on the West Midland’s preference for Labour, as the main way he will be elected. Generally, it appears Mr Simon has not taken the mayoral election seriously, he presents himself as the non-Conservative candidate, and not beholden to London. He speaks of taking back control for the West Midlands but he does not specify how he would do this.
Conservative candidate Andy Street appears to be the more promising candidate when compared to Mr Simon. He has actively campaigned throughout the West Midlands, and has used his campaign to bring the different communities within the West Midlands together. He has used his campaign events to state how he would handle transport costs and how he would bring people back to work. He has shown he cares about the West Midlands and takes his role seriously. During the campaign, he has already been to India and to other regions to drum up business for the West Midlands, he appears to be a man committed to fulfilling his promises and not using the party he is a member of to ride into power.
Liberal Democrat candidate Beverley Nielsen, has an impressive resume in the West Midlands, working for the Confederation of British Industry, starting up her own company and working for Warwick University as a business advisor. Like Mr Street and unlike Mr Simon, she has been actively campaigning throughout the West Midlands, using her experience in business to charm potential voters to her cause. Her policy proposals are slightly like Andy Street’s but they are sensible proposals and include a free bus pass for young people to encourage them to travel more to look for work, and a network rail link between Birmingham and Moseley. Whilst she has been active in the West Midlands, she has not quite had the same verve and activity as Mr Street has in trying to bring more people to invest in the West Midlands from outside the area. This could work in her favour though, as voters could see her as being firmly rooted within the area and not beholden to outside interests.
Both Mr Street and Mrs Nielsen have not used their party tag, to attract voters, unlike Mr Simon. Instead they have worked hard to develop sensible policies, by looking at the issues that affect the people of the West Midlands, and they have presented their proposals in sensible and direct ways. Unlike Mr Simon, they have kept a very visible presence within the West Midlands during the campaign. By doing so, both Nielsen and Street have ensured that the voting public are aware of them and what they stand for.
The West Midlands Mayor would have power to shape and change the economy of the West Midlands for the next few years, therefore it is important that the right candidate is chosen. Sion Simon might be a Labour politician, campaigning in an area that usually votes strongly for Labour, but his lack of visible policies or even presence during the campaign could well count against him. The one plus side for Sion Simon could be that he has come out openly in support of Britain’s exit from the EU (Brexit), and as the West Midlands voted 52.6% to leave the EU, this could go over well with voters.
It all hangs on how voters feel on the day itself. If they wish for the stability and safety of Labour, or of the uncertainty but possibility the other two candidates offer. It is sure to be an interesting result and outcome for all involved, just as the campaign has been.