No Tory big name in West Yorkshire mayoral race is disappointing – Stephen Naylor

ANDY Burnham, Sadiq Khan, Boris Johnson and Andy Street may have very different politics but one thing they have in common is that they were well-known names who stood for – and won – the race to be mayor in three of the country’s biggest metropolitan areas.
Boris Johnson came to national prominence as Mayor of London.Boris Johnson came to national prominence as Mayor of London.
Boris Johnson came to national prominence as Mayor of London.

In just over two months’ time, West Yorkshire will finally catch up with the likes of Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Merseyside in electing one person who will have a £38m budget and, more importantly, a mandate to speak about and shout up for this area.

You would think it would be an exciting opportunity for our major political parties to set out their policy platform, show they care about our communities and attempt to win an election to a role that will have an impact on all of our lives in the years ahead.

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Labour have certainly selected someone who meets that brief. From her campaign to win the Labour nomination, to the way she has gone about securing votes ever since, Tracy Brabin clearly wants to win.

Tracy Brabin will be Labour's candidate in the West Yorkshire mayoral candidate.Tracy Brabin will be Labour's candidate in the West Yorkshire mayoral candidate.
Tracy Brabin will be Labour's candidate in the West Yorkshire mayoral candidate.

I may not agree with some of her policies but her passion for this area shines through, her determination to fight to improve the lives of people and businesses here is clear, and there is no doubt she would be a big voice in a big job who you could not ignore. She is the sort of person I want standing up for me as a West Yorkshire resident, no matter what her politics.

It came as something of a surprise then – a hugely disappointing surprise – to discover the Conservative Party’s selection to be their mayoral candidate over the weekend. Their choice Matt Robinson, a councillor in Leeds for 11 years, may be very good – but I follow politics much more closely than many and I wasn’t aware of him.

He says his priorities will ‘include focusing on the region’s economic recovery, increasing the visible police presence and improving transport links’. Solid ambitions, but you would struggle find anyone campaigning against those ideas. They are hardly aspirational, inspirational concepts. And that is a problem with less than 75 days to go until we make our choice at the ballot box.

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It is also a surprise for the simple fact that Conservatives need to show they understand and care about West Yorkshire. After the 2019 General Election, they still trailed Labour 13-9 in the number of Members of Parliament they have representing the county, but that was a swing of eight seats from the 2017 result.

Andy burnham is Labour mayor for Greater Manchester.Andy burnham is Labour mayor for Greater Manchester.
Andy burnham is Labour mayor for Greater Manchester.

This should be an area where they need to consolidate their increase in the vote and the mayoralty certainly provides a platform to do that. Even if they ultimately didn’t win, a strong mayoral campaign would have provided an opportunity to have your voice heard like no other.

So, why did they not choose a recognisable figure, a known name? I wish I knew. It seems like a huge missed opportunity for a party of government whose commitment to the North is being openly questioned despite the voters of swathes of the north giving them the chance to prove ‘levelling up’ was not just a meaningless soundbite but a genuine commitment.

Agree with his stance or not, you only have to look at Andy Burnham fighting for more support for Greater Manchester over coronavirus restrictions to see the impact a mayor can have. They might not win the day, but they can certainly make life difficult for politicians at Westminster and ensure debates are had on big issues.

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West Yorkshire’s new metro mayor will have an important role in fighting for and shaping this area and I think most people, whatever their usual political persuasion, will support them in their efforts.

I know I will. But I think it was important – for all the candidates, including the person who eventually wins – to have had a rigorous campaign with the best possible people having well-argued debates about absolutely crucial issues like housing and transport and skills. It feels to me like we now won’t get that – and whether you’re Tracy Brabin, any of the other candidates, or any West Yorkshire voter – I think we’re all the poorer as a result.

Stephen Naylor is the founder and director of West Yorkshire-based communications and strategy consultancy Waverley.

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