Dear metro mayors, unite to seize an even bigger prize

By Ed Cox | 17 May 2017
  • Ed Cox

Congratulations: after months of campaigning, years of backroom brokering and decades of IPPR calls for the creation of your role, rhetoric turned into reality this month, when the public elected you as one of six new mayors in English city regions.

Those of us braced for rock-bottom turnout of 15% to match those of the November 2012 police and crime commissioner elections needn’t have worried so much.

Despite a triple whammy of election fatigue, mixed messaging from the Government on its enthusiasm for devolution and a lack of national media coverage, turnout in mayoral elections was comparable to local elections.

But more must be done to convince the public of your vision. The London experience shows more voter turnout as they see strong leaders delivering their pledges.

Andy Street has powerful new allies for his vision for the West Midlands in Theresa May and her Brummie top advisor, Nick Timothy.

And Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s promise of a ‘new North’ hints a welcome future of more collaboration at a scale to have clout globally and much less local parochialism, in order to seize the much bigger prize on offer.

But while it is important for the North to unite at a scale large enough to offer international investors a diverse offer — from cultural and research hubs in the core cities, to untapped rural green energy assets, to international trading links in its ports and airports, connected together as one — it’s by working with all major mayors that we can get the powers we need to turn this vision into reality.

It’s not for think-tankers like me or for central government to patronise a former John Lewis boss or a former health secretary on how to do the day-to-day. You already have leadership skills, as your victory shows.

But I would urge you all to join your strengths together and, with Sadiq Khan, as representatives of 20 million English citizens — far more than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland —  you can form an unstoppable coalition for even greater powers to deliver your vision.

Ed Cox is the director of IPPR North. He tweets at @edcox_ippr

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