Grin behind the mask says it all as Andy Street coasts to West Midlands Mayor victory

The cheers were more subdued than usual but the grin across Andy Street's face was as broad as ever - once he took the mask off.

Andy Street smiles after being re-elected at the count at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham
Andy Street smiles after being re-elected at the count at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham

The Conservative mayor has been re-elected for another term following an election like no other.

The celebrations were inevitably more muted as candidates, their entourage and the media had to respect social distancing measures.

Normally at election counts, everyone mingles together and jockeys for position as the votes are counted and then announced.

But, for obvious reasons, it was all a little different this time. That election buzz wasn't quite so strong with the whole event even more carefully managed than in normal times.

The media were kept apart from the candidates, who are normally, in most cases, happy enough to mingle, chat and give their two pennies on local and national matters as the votes are being counted.

This time, reporters were stashed away on their own platform eagerly waiting for glimpses of candidates as they tried to read the room for clues as to what could be about to happen.

Of course, going into the mayoral counts on Saturday afternoon there was more than a hint that Andy Street would be re-elected following the blue surge which saw the Conservatives take seats across the Black Country 24 hours earlier.

The Conservatives now have healthy majorities on Dudley and Walsall councils, made gains in Wolverhampton and even won seats in Sandwell, previously a no-go zone.

Labour candidate and Birmingham MP Liam Byrne lost out

There was strong support for Conservative Mr Street in the Black Country, getting the most votes in Wolverhampton, Dudley and Walsall. Solihull again proved crucial, with the incumbent getting 32,000 more votes than his main rival there. Mr Byrne got more votes in Birmingham, his constituent city, but it wasn't enough.

However, at this mayoral count, which was so close last time out in 2017, there was still room for some jeopardy.

Even for those well-versed in mayoral politics, it's not the easiest process to follow.

Mr Street had a 55,000 lead once first preference votes had been counted but was a minuscule 1.27 per cent short of the magic 50 per cent needed to win outright.

That meant a further wait as the second preferences from those who voted for the smaller parties were counted up and added on. But, with the incumbent mayor so close to the finish line, it would have taken a miracle for Mr Byrne to overhaul him.

And so it was - an hour and a half later it was confirmed Mr Street had been re-elected.

The victorious mayor insisted the region would bounce back from the pandemic and vowed he would be "knocking on the door" of the Government to ensure it sticks to its "levelling up" commitment. He insisted it had been a "team effort" at both local and national level.

Mr Street said: "I feel incredibly fortunate, it's humbling actually. I say a huge thank you to everybody who has put their trust in me.

"We were making great progress pre-Covid. It hit us for six. What we did in the campaign, we laid out detailed jobs around transport, around jobs, around housing and around the environment as well.

"It's very clear, we will be getting stuck in straight away, and I think that's what people would expect of me.

"I think people have said, "yeah I quite like how he has gone about this', and that sort of workmanlike way has been part of this."

He added: "I'm not naive, it's going to be challenging but I actually think we can, we have before, that sense of unity and purpose will see us through. I do believe we will bounce back very well."

It has been a miserable couple of days for Labour but Mr Street insisted Sir Keir Starmer shouldn't be written off.

The rivals put political differences aside at the declaration

He said: "He will go away and reflect. Nobody should write him off yet. It's a fool who writes off his opponents."

Labour's Mr Byrne said he took "full responsibility" for the defeat. There were also touching words for his rival Mr Street's mother, who died earlier this year after contracting Covid.

He did not give interviews following his defeat but said in his speech: "To my party, I know this is a bitter blow. This defeat is my responsibility.

"In the weeks ahead, I'll tell the full astonishing story of this groundbreaking campaign but today, I simply say this, do not be downhearted because if we lose heart, our country loses hope.

"We may have lost a battle today but there will be no surrender in our fight to build back stronger and fairer and greener."

Steve Caudwell came in a commendable third place for the Greens and said the result showed they were now the "third party" in the West Midlands.

He said: "We've picked up about 60 seats nationwide, we've come third here, we've saved our deposit which we didn't do four years ago.

"I think it speaks for the fact people have a compelling alternative to some of the other parties.

"It's a great result, something for us to build on throughout the election cycles in the next few years."

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