Proud Socialist Pete Lowe: I'm the man to win West Midlands Mayoral contest for Labour
There’s a painting on the wall of Pete Lowe’s Wollaston home that documents his life from the day he met his wife Su at a rally to save Corbett Hospital in 1989.
It features some of his favourite musicians – Jonn Penney from Ned’s and Robert Plant to name two, and a banner for Unison, the union he has been employed by for the past two decades.
There’s also a nod to his beloved Wolves, the Mitre pub in Stourbridge and the Black Country flag, the stark red, white and black emblem which he says he is immensely proud of, having helped to develop the associated Black Country festival.
It is Mr Lowe’s love of his birthplace that partly explains why he quit as leader of Dudley Council in November 2018 to focus on a bid to become the Labour Party’s first West Midlands Mayor.
“I’m proud of my Black Country heritage and want to make sure all of us have a voice,” he says. “Sadly we have been left behind, with investment going into areas such as Birmingham city centre and not spreading out to other communities, which as a result have stagnated.
“The Black Country, along with some other working class communities in Birmingham and Coventry, has not felt the benefits of what a West Midlands Mayor could and should do.
“These areas have some great aspirations and would really benefit from a mayor who will champion them.”
Mr Lowe, aged 51, joined Labour during the 1984 miners strike because he wanted to help defend communities. After working as a charge nurse across hospitals in the Black Country until 1999 he became a regional officer for Unison, for whom he represents healthcare workers in the West Midlands in disputes over pay and conditions.
He’s been a councillor since 2003, winning by 54 votes in Lye and Stourbridge North, the area his family have lived in for generations.
He became Dudley Council leader in 2014, but admits his head was turned by Labour’s failure in the inaugural West Midlands mayoral election in 2017, where he says candidate Sion Simon’s campaign failed to “invigorate and encourage” voters.
This led to calls for a candidate who was “deeply entrenched” in local government and the union movement, he says.
“My name rose to the top of the list, and for the last 18 months we have built a grassroots campaign across the West Midlands which has put us in the position we are in today.”
Mr Lowe is involved in a three way battle for the Labour candidacy, with the winner due to be announced on February 6 after the votes of around 15,000 members have been counted.
He’s often viewed as being squashed in the middle between centrist Birmingham MP Liam Byrne and hard-left Momentum favourite Salma Yaqoob.
But Mr Lowe is crystal clear about his politics, and it’s telling that front and centre in the aforementioned painting stands Jeremy Corbyn.
“I’ve been a very proud supporter of Jeremy and I don’t regret that in any way shape or form,” he says.
“We need a candidate who can unite our party, and I see myself as the unifying candidate with a very clear Socialist agenda.”
“I’m clearly on the left of the party, but I also have a pragmatic approach where I can work with people across the whole Labour movement.”
Mr Lowe says he has put forward a “radical transformative agenda” that he believes will see the West Midlands dealt with “equitably” from government.
He says his past experience gives him an edge over the other candidates, having previously sat on the West Midlands Combined Authority board as vice-chair.
Like the other candidates, his mayoral plans include a green new deal and measures to tackle homelessness, but he says his approach – which involves using members of local communities in consultancy roles on key issues – sets him apart.
He’s scathing of the performance in office of Conservative Mayor Andy Street, giving him “two or three out of 10” for his efforts and insisting that “most of his grand schemes remain red-lighted”. He accused him of working in isolation from council leaders, said he had wasted nearly £1m on “pointless” consultants and questioned his claims of bringing more than £2bn of investment into the region.
“Andy Street’s sole method of funding is reliant on the delivery of HS2, which is an example of an economy being built on sand if ever I have seen one,” Mr Lowe said. “It is a dereliction of duty for him to put so much stock into a scheme which is so uncertain.”
Mr Lowe has pledged to work with local authorities using a deprivation model to help with their priorities, ensuring that the poorest communities in the West Midlands “get their fair share”.
“You look at the Black Country authorities that have lost youth provision due to Tory cuts, we want to help them turn the tide,” he said. “By stopping that drift into drugs and crime, we are investing in young people to save in the future. It is an early intervention agenda.”
According to Mr Lowe, the West Midlands mayoral election has taken on even greater significance since the general election, which saw Labour thrashed and in search of a new leader after Mr Corbyn announced he was standing down.
He felt the pain on a personal level, having stood – and lost – as a candidate in Stourbridge for the third consecutive election.
He says he has reflected on the “devastating and disappointing result”, conceding that many voters rejected Labour due to Brexit and a dislike of Mr Corbyn, although he maintains the party’s manifesto plans were “overwhelmingly popular”.
“Because of what happened in December, this election is absolutely vital,” he said. “The whole world will be watching and as a Labour Party, we simply can’t afford to lose.”
Mr Lowe said he plans to hold an all members conference “within days” of becoming Mayor, in part to help West Midlands Labour to develop “its own voice” after a period in the doldrums.
Regarding his chances of winning the candidacy, he says he is “confident but not complacent”, but believes his people-powered campaign has all the right ingredients to be a success.
“It’s not about Pete Lowe, I just happen to be the figurehead at the top of our campaign,” he says. “Our policies haven’t come from the mind of a 5ft 5, middle aged, balding bloke, they have come from people with that actual lived experience.”
He uses his homelessness bill of rights as an example, which he says was developed by people who had worked with the homeless for years.
He says he has no interest in securing “top down” endorsements from leading party figures, and is instead calling on people from the West Midlands to have control of the region’s destiny.
“We are proud of the fact we have developed a grassroots movement here,” Mr Lowe said. “I firmly believe that the best people to determine how the West Midlands goes forward are people in the West Midlands.”