Siôn Simon: Labour candidate for West Midlands mayor launches campaign
Labour's candidate to be the first West Midlands mayor described himself as a 'recovering' Westminster politician as he launched his campaign for the region's new top job.
Siôn Simon, a current MEP and former Birmingham MP, said he was 'poacher turned gamekeeper' as he attacked the country's London-based political system.
Speaking at GTG Training in Wednesfield, Mr Simon said he wanted to 'take back control' of the West Midlands.
Asked whether as a former government minister if he was one of the Westminster class he was criticising, he told the Express & Star: "I think what I am is recovering from that. I left the House of Commons and came back to the West Midlands to campaign for devolution and I have been doing it ever since. Call it poacher turned gamekeeper if you like, but yeah, I came to believe when I was in parliament it was not the answer for the community I wanted to represent – working people in the West Midlands."
During a speech in front of Labour MPs, councillors and party members, Mr Simon said West Midlands residents felt the region had 'gone to the dogs'.
The mayor will be elected on May 4 and will have power over economic development, housing, transport, skills, and mental health. But organisers of mayoral hustings have been disappointed Mr Simon has turned down their invite. Mr Simon said: "I am doing hustings, I have done hustings, I'm doing more hustings. I am not doing every one I get invited to but we had a very intensive in-depth process of meaningfully consulting a really broad spectrum of stakeholders right across the region."
Mr Simon's main rival is Conservative candidate Andy Street – the former managing director of John Lewis – who was dubbed as 'Theresa May's 'Ambassador from London' by Labour Birmingham MP Liam Byrne.
Mr Simon maintained he was the candidate with the best 'blend of experience' including time as a sole trader. He said: "If I had an actual trade it was writing but I have done all kind of things. I have never said I was a businessman. I organised conferences, management consultancy. During those years if I didn't work I didn't get paid. I never knew what work was around the corner – that's the experience of a large number of people in the West Midlands."
Comment: Electorate still unconvinced by Siôns mantra
Siôn Simon's message that the West Midlands has been ignored by Whitehall politicians will resonate with many across the region, writes Peter Madeley.
And he would know, having spent nine years as one of the London-centric MPs that he now appears to have turned against.
Mr Simon admits he is 'in recovery' from his time in Westminster, and now describes himself as 'poacher turned gamekeeper'. He is a long-standing advocate of devolution, and gave up his constituency seat in 2010. But his apparent attempts to tout himself as a West Midlands working class hero do not stand up to close scrutiny.
Mr Simon's launch speech rammed home his 'taking back control' mantra. He described himself as 'a West Midlands patriot' and spoke glowingly of cups of tea with the neighbours as a nipper in Sandwell. However, his refusal to attend many of the mayoral hustings events that have been arranged will rankle with many.
He describes himself as 'a small businessperson', but working as a writer does not inspire confidence that he understands the pressures of being self-employed.
Mr Simon has some way to go before he convinces the electorate that he can be the champion the West Midlands needs.
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