Express & Star

Can Brand Andy beat the Tory blues to win West Midlands mayoral race?

OPINION – Andy Richardson on Andy Street's bid to win a new term as West Midlands Mayor

WOLVERHAMPTON COPYRIGHT NATIONAL WORLD PLC TIM THURSFIELD 03/04/24.Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street visits Jaguar Land Rover where he unveiled details of a landmark project to supercharge the region's booming Tech sector..

There’s an election afoot. And there are rules around impartiality, so we’ll steer clear of whether it’s great that we’re facing record high taxes, record levels of poverty, an NHS that’s got unmanageable waiting lists, and an economy that’s gone backwards following Brexit.

Because, of course, that’s all subjective, and maybe it’s brilliant to live in a political era that, as the former Foreign Secretary David Miliband has observed, has seen Britain become a lower-status nation, with weaker political, security, and economic ties with the rest of the world.

Some are really happy about that, of course, though if the polls an are to be believed – and there’s no reason why they’re not – they’re part of an increasingly small and increasingly fragile minority.

So we’ll move the conversation along and look to the views of one true blue Tory, West Midlands Mayor, the venerable Andy Street.

He’s a man who, irrespective of party politics, would be seen by most as having been a force for good. He’s worked cross party – there are times when he’s doubled-up on issues with Manchester’s Labour Mayor, Andy Burnham – to get the best for the region. He was furious with Rishi Sunak and others when the northern leg of HS2 was cancelled and he’s sought to do the best for the region, making decisions in the wider good, rather than following the party line.

Rishi Sunak

And so, as we gear up for the May 2 local elections, at which Mayor Andy Street, just like local councillors, will be relying on the support of voters to keep his job or lose it, it’s worth looking at how he’s going about his campaign. The answer is simple. He’s having as little to do with the party he represents as it’s possible to do.

In an interview with the left-leaning Guardian, designed to appeal to floating centre left voters, he emphasised that he’s focusing on Brand Andy, rather than Brand Tory, or Brand Rishi. And that’s perfectly understandable. Brand Tory is an ideal that’s lost any potency, following the disasters of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. The economy has gone backwards, levelling up was as believable as the idea we’d get an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS if we left our nearest and most valuable economic trading partner in a see-ya-later divorce. The worst part of being a Conservative, at present, is the fact that people are no longer listening. They’ve been in power for so very long and squandered so many opportunities that people view them like the housing tenant who’s four months behind on the rent but promises to make it up next month. No, you won’t. You’ll keep on ripping off others.

Brand Rishi is just as poor. The tech bro who was better than Truss but not as good as Mourdant has seen his personal standing fall and fall and fall. There’s a simple reason for that, Rishi’s not very good at politics. Whenever there’s a big call, he dithers or delays. He’s not in touch with the electorate, though, with all those helicopter flights, it would be a miracle if he were.

And so when it comes to the electioneering strategy of a popular regional leader whose party is blue and whose leader is Rishi, the thing he wants most of all is to avoid comparisons with either.

He’ll be campaigning with green-coloured campaign material, as he has done for the past seven years, and avoiding questions about the negative effect that Brexit has had on the region he represents.

Good choice for Labour – Richard Parker

Labour, for their part, have been smart. Their candidate against Street is a former partner with accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, Richard Parker, who, in contrast to Street, is emphasising the record of the Conservative Government during an era of decline.

It’ll be a close-run thing. And one thing’s for sure. Street is the best that the Tories have. A smart, engaged, intelligent, and caring man, who works hard cross-party to promote the region, if he loses, then we can be sure that the General Election wipe-out will come to pass.

And if, in a month’s time, Street finds himself out of work, replaced by Parker, he can look back on a job well done and people well served.