Monday, May 24, 2021

The Burnham Effect

There was much that was wholly correct in last week’s excellent special edition of the New Statesman on the crisis of the left. 

Everyone from Tony Blair to Lola Seaton (and the editor Jason Cowley) understandably focused on the myriad of things that Labour has got wrong, badly wrong. Ed Miliband started the trend of embarrassment about what Labour achieved in power from 1997 to 2010, but the current leadership seems similarly blind to the remarkable stories of where Labour in power is inspiring, unifying, and electorally successful. Labour won well in Wales, but also in Greater Manchester. Andy Burnham didn’t just increase his share of the vote to 67.3%, but the overall turnout; and if you were counting, won a majority of votes in every single council ward, all 10 city or borough councils, and all 27 parliamentary seats, even the nine currently held by Conservatives following the collapse of the Red Wall.

An advantage for incumbent Mayors played out well, as it did for Ben Houchen in Tees Valley and Andy Street in the West Midlands, but something is working for a devolved Labour Party rooted in its place and backed up with an imaginative, well-branded, and inclusive campaign. 

Much existing national political commentary, like academic literature, has struggled to interpret the nuances of such agile and networked figures as Mayors in UK politics who have made distinctive choices on both priorities and tone. As I said in my blog for UPEN, the Metro Mayors seem to work in practice, but not in theory. 

As it's my magazine of choice, I fondly hope the New Statesman will look to cast its critical eye on the cities and regions (and Wales) in a vital examination of the direction for the left.

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