THE CONSERVATIVES’ Andy Street has won a sensational victory to become the first elected mayor for the West Midlands amid a poor performance in local elections nationally for Labour.
It is a blow for leaders of Labour councils in the West Midlands, including Coventry.
They had signed up to ex-Conservative chancellor George Osborne’s so-called ‘devolution’ combined authority/elected mayor agenda – and believed a Labour mayor in the Labour-dominated West Midlands would be a stronger buffer to the Conservatives in government.
Former John Lewis store boss Mr Street won the first round of votes counted today under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system – which enabled the 26 per cent of voters who turned out to also vote for their second choice candidate.
He said his victory ushered in the “rebirth of a new urban Conservative agenda”, adding his party had “won support in every community”.
His victory margin in the first round – officially declared shortly after 2pm – was around 6,000 over Labour candidate Sion Simon, with Mr Street polling 216,280 first choice votes.
With no candidate winning more than 50 per cent of votes, four candidates (James Burn, Green, 24,260; Beverley Nielson 30,378; Pete Durnell UKIP, 29,051; Graham Stevenson, Communist, 5,696) dropped out for the Labour and Tory candidates to go head-to-head in the second round, when voters’ second choices were counted.
Shortly after 4.45pm, the result was established as a narrow victory for Mr Street, with his total votes at 238,628 and Mr Simon’s, 234,862.
There was also a significant swing from Labour to the Tories in Coventry – relative to last year’s council elections – where the Labour candidate picked up 24,331 of the first preference votes, and Mr Street for the Tories got 20,345 votes.
Coventry City Council leader George Duggins had in 2012 led a campaign against having an elected mayor to run the council in 2012. Back then, Coventry and Birmingham voters in referenda voted two to one against the ex-PM David Cameron-backed idea. Coun Duggins had in 2012 claimed such systems placed too much power in the hands of one individual.
His Coventry council predecessor Ann Lucas had argued, before she was ousted as leader in May last year, that accepting former chancellor Mr Osborne’s preference of having a regional elected mayor (or ‘metro mayor’) to run the new West Midlands Combined Authority of six Labour-run councils and one Tory council (Solihull) was the only deal in town.
Mr Osborne had said a metro mayor was needed if regions wanted the ‘full suite of powers’ on offer – over devolved funding pots for economic regeneration and transport.
It came amid the ongoing era of unprecedented government cuts to councils, which amounts to more money being removed from the region – around £100million so far from Coventry City Council’s government funding alone since 2010.
The Tory leadership in Coventry had argued against Coventry’s inclusion in the new West Midlands Combined Authority – with or without an elected mayor – without putting the decision to Coventry people in a referendum.
Headed by Conservative group leader councillor John Blundell, Tory councillors had privately expected the new regional tier of government to hand more power to Labour – and had argued for a combined authority with Tory-run Warwickshire instead as being better for the sub-region.
Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves was an advocate of the devolution agenda, and is now acting chief executive of the WMCA as well as the city council.
The devolution deal between the region and government is billed as handing the West Midlands £36.5million a year for 30 years – which is said to have the potential for an estimated £8billion investment pot, once massive borrowing is taken into account.
Mr Simon, in an apparent attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour nationally, said: “The campaign was overshadowed by national issues.. We need to hear the message coming up from our people and we need to respond to it now.”
He also said: “We didn’t have millions of pounds for our campaign.”
Mr Simon, who stepped down as an MP in 2010 and fought and lost for a Birmingham mayor in the 2012 referendum, added it was a “terribly disappointing result” but an “amazingly positive experience.”