‘It’s place first, not party first’: city mayors on how they are reshaping English politics | Politics

‘It’s place first, not party first’: city mayors on how they are reshaping English politics | Politics

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, sweeps into an Islington studio with the energetic charm of a seasoned politician, and speaks accordingly. Andy Street, who was managing director of John Lewis for nine years before standing for mayor of the West Midlands, is more self-contained, with a dry sense of humour. Their roles have different histories, too. Khan is London’s third mayor, following Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, whereas Street’s mayoral constituency, which extends from Wolverhampton to Coventry, is only five years old. Street belongs to the governing party while Khan is aligned with the opposition, but the two men, who both won a second term last year, have an independent spirit that does not always delight their party leaders. Since 2017, they have become friends and collaborators.

Andy Street The first time I met this chap was when he was standing to be mayor. He’d had his first Saturday job in Peter Jones [a west London branch of the John Lewis Partnership] and wanted to come back to the store and tell the story. He has a great eye for the media, as we all know.
Sadiq Khan Andy’s not a party politician first and foremost. I think it comes from the John Lewis training. You’re not a pugilist; you’re a pragmatist. You do business.
AS Well, the thing about John Lewis is that it is a democracy. You’re accountable to your employees. It does get you into the habit of explaining what you’re doing and why it’s in the interests of your team.

Did you have political ambitions at the time, Andy?
I’ve always been interested in politics – it’s what I studied at university. But I wasn’t tempted to be an MP. When this mayoral job came along, I genuinely thought (a) I could serve my region; and (b) I could use the skills I’d built up. You’ve got to be the champion of the whole region, not just of Conservative voters or residents of a certain borough.
SK When did you first decide?
AS I waited to see what would happen to national politics in 2016. I went to see Theresa May very shortly after she became PM, and that conversation made me decide to do it. I needed to know that whoever was going to be PM was going to believe in the model. I loved being the boss of John Lewis, so it took quite a thing to move me on.

Cities. That’s where the action is. We’re nimble, we’re progressive, we’re responsive, we move much fasterSadiq Khan

Does a mayor have to be a pragmatist rather than a pugilist?
I’ve learned on the job. My personality was adversarial, because I used to be a litigator and I was in parliament, and sometimes the pugilist in me does come out. To be a good mayor you’ve got to be someone who convenes people. You’ve got to talk to people who may have different opinions from you. And sometimes you have to be amenable to being persuaded. Particularly with the limited powers mayors in this country have – I think we’re the most centralised democracy in the western world – the ones who have been effective park the Punch and Judy stuff and get on with it. One of the reasons I was over the moon when people like Andy were elected was you could share stories and experiences.
AS Three of my councils are Conservative-run, four are Labour, so we’re in the minority. We have 14 Tory MPs and 14 Labour MPs. It forces the person doing the job to build bridges and that is a source of strength, not weakness.

How do you feel about London’s dominance and the balance of power in the UK?
I’m proud of London as probably the global city. It’s brilliant that Britain is led by a city of that standing. My version of devolution and levelling up is nothing to do with taking anything away from London. We should actually use it as a benchmark to aspire to. I do get deeply frustrated, though, that all the decision-makers are congregated in London. More successful countries have more balance between their leading cities. We’ve only got three FTSE 100 companies based in the West Midlands. That can’t be right.
SK My frustration comes sometimes from other mayors being loose with their language and giving the impression of being anti-London, which helps nobody. It doesn’t benefit other parts of the country if London contributes less to the Treasury’s coffers or if wealth leaves London to go to Paris, New York, Singapore. We’ve got to be more collegiate. I appreciate that the best way to get a round of applause is to bash London, but be careful what you wish for.

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How often do the mayors communicate?
Too often! We have a loose collaboration called the M10 that comes together about once a month, but there’s informal stuff going on all the time.
There is genuine affection when we see each other. I can’t think of an example of any party-political knockabout stuff. It’s a safe space. We don’t want to abuse it.

Do you learn from each other’s policy experiments?
Yes. Sadiq used a very important word earlier: convening. Our powers are not huge, but you do have the wonderful power to bring anybody together. Andy Burnham and I both said that homelessness is probably the most important thing in our areas, even though it’s not formally in our job description. I’ve had a look at what he’s up to, and I hope he would say the same.
SK I don’t want to say we’re laboratories for new ideas, because that gives the impression our constituents are guinea pigs, but we are pioneers. We try new things. None of us are ideologues, so dogma is left at the door. It’s about what works.

Full marks to Ken Livingstone – he’s not in my party, but he did a brilliant job of defining what the first mayoral job was aboutAndy Street

How has the pandemic affected the role of mayors?
One of the reasons why we weren’t as effective with this pandemic was there was too much command and control from the centre. My view is that mayors know their communities better, and had they been involved earlier, the results would have been less bad.
AS I think the pandemic showed the best and the worst of our system. Matt Hancock would use that link: what’s the situation in the West Midlands? What needs to happen? Sometimes, though, there was a tendency to make decisions in London, so the mayors found themselves as spokespeople for their regions. We did have to literally stand up and do the communications every single Friday for 18 months.
SK I think the government does understand that the mayors have a big role to play as people who are credible.
AS Nadhim Zahawi epitomised that didn’t he, as vaccines minister?
SK He was fantastic. Nadhim was very keen to let go and ask: how can I help you? My experience is, the more confident a minister is in their own skin, the more confident they are to work with you if you’re from a different party. Nadhim didn’t mind who got the credit; he just wanted there to be an increased take-up of the vaccine. There’s a nice moral to this story: if you let go, sometimes you get some of the stardust you deserve. Often, though, insecurity means ministers don’t want to let go. All I would say to them is that it’s not a zero-sum game.
AS Some would say it’s easier for me because I’m from the same party, but the thing that unites the mayors is we are here to help government achieve our shared objectives. Everyone knows we’ve got to green the public transport system, everyone knows that’s going to be expensive, everyone knows we have to bring private sector investment in, so that does require government and leaders of cities to come together.
SK I say to central government: treat us as allies, not adversaries. Devolve more powers and resources to us. Trust us. And, by the way, the benefit to you in the centre is better results. Voters are happy.

How accessible are you to your citizens?
I was an MP for 11 years, but being a mayor is in a different league. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Londoners always have opinions. When you walk the streets, when you go to the shops, when you’re on the bus or tube, people want to talk to you. That’s the difference between mayors and prime ministers or members of the cabinet. It’s almost impossible to lose touch.
AS I get recognised all the time. Probably not as much as him. Even if they don’t agree with you politically, the spirit towards you and the role is quite positive.

Good luck to any mayor who wants to go back into parliament. I’m not interested. I want to do this job properlySadiq Khan

Given the increased concerns about politicians’ safety, are there more barriers between you and your voters?
I’m determined that there shouldn’t be. I suppose I’m quite fatalistic about it. If somebody really took against me, I’m sure they’d find a way. But I don’t believe that will happen.
SK I’m somebody who’s had regular death threats and has police protection around the clock. The police understand that I’ll continue to do as much as I can. I’ve led every single Pride march in London, I still use public transport, I go to congregational prayers on Friday. I never want to lose that, but I do worry. We have to make sure our public servants are safe. Because if they’re not, not only do they risk their lives, but it deters others from coming forward.

This job can be a powerful springboard: we all know where Boris Johnson ended up. Do you think about life after your mayoralty?
I can honestly look you in the eye and say I never even think about this question. This job is ours to define. I’ve only been doing it for five years. In the West Midlands, Coventry has been a city for 800 years, so it puts it into perspective. Full marks to Ken Livingstone – he might not be in my party, but he did a brilliant job of defining what the first mayoral job was about, and I’ve got the same opportunity to do that in my community. That’s a brilliant privilege and therefore I don’t need to think about what comes after that.
SK Mayors are doers. One American mayor [Denver’s Wellington Webb] said that if the 19th century was known as the century of empires, and the 20th century was nation states, then the 21st century is about cities. That’s where the action is. We’re nimble, we’re progressive, we’re responsive, we move much faster. Good luck to any mayor who wants to go back into parliament. I’m not interested. I want to do this job properly and achieve what we can in the finite time we’ve got.

Over Zoom, Tracy Brabin surveys Marvin Rees’s spacious Bristol office with an envious eye. The West Yorkshire metro mayor’s own office in Leeds has been flooded, so she is speaking from a temporary base in the city. Brabin only took office last May, and compares the past year to “doing a PhD in local government”. After two decades as a screenwriter and actor, she entered politics in 2016, succeeding her friend Jo Cox as MP for Batley and Spen and holding three shadow cabinet posts before stepping down to run for mayor.

Rees’s relationship with the Bristol city mayoralty stretches back a decade. He was defeated in 2012, but elected in 2016 and again last year. In 2020, he had to respond to a national controversy around the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston.

One thing that unites Brabin and Rees, apart from the Labour party, is the fact that they are pioneers: the first woman and the first person of colour, respectively, to hold metro mayoral office in the UK. Their personal histories have played a huge role in both their decision to run and their approach to the job.

Tracy Brabin, metro mayor of West Yorkshire, and Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol. Photograph: Simon Bray and Karen Robinson/The Guardian

Tracy Brabin Marvin and I met when I was shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. I was told that, of all the mayors in the country, Marvin was the most switched-on about culture.
Marvin Rees [Laughs] I’m seen as a bit of a cultural heathen in my city. I blew my credibility when I was asked what my favourite restaurant in Bristol was, and I said Nando’s. But, Tracy, I have a question for you. You’ve had a chance to be both a mayor and an MP. How do those two positions compare?
TB Well, I was MP for Batley and Spen for five years, and I could see so much need that I couldn’t address in opposition. Being a mayor feels like what being a minister must feel like. I’ve gone from a team of six as a shadow minister to a team of 700 in the combined authority. It’s very exciting to be able to act without having to wait for a new government.
MR I was living in the US in 2010, and a professor whose best friend was [former Democratic presidential contender] Howard Dean said: “Marvin, I think you might be more suited to executive politics than legislative.” Howard said that being a governor was much more stimulating than being a senator, because he got to do real things. We’ve got a different remit but the message we share is: get it done. You’re on the frontline every day.
TB I came into politics late in life, so I’m very impatient for change. I must say, I did ponder why Dan Jarvis has chosen to focus on Westminster when I know what he’s done as mayor for South Yorkshire. Until we get a Labour government, it’s going to be hard to make profound changes in your community.

The new model that we need to move into is one that has mayors as equal partners in shaping policyMarvin Rees

MR Do you think the government really appreciates the potential of mayors? Or do they just see them as a distant, inconsequential power that should be focused on delivering national government policy?
TB I would have said they probably see them as an annoyance, given what happened during the pandemic, with Andy Burnham standing up for Manchester. I was in parliament at the time and it seemed like they were obsessed with him. But I think with Michael Gove [as secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities], there was a new seriousness. I am hopeful that with pressure and support from [the shadow minister] Lisa Nandy, we could get more of an understanding. In the north, three out of five people are represented by a mayor, so for government to disregard the mayors does seem slightly crazy. That’s also why Keir Starmer has asked Gordon Brown to look into the constitution in the UK. People say: “How are we going to win back the red wall seats?” Well, we’re already in power in the red wall seats because the Labour mayors are delivering.
MR If I was a government minister, whenever I wanted to do something new, the first thing I’d do is ask the 11 core cities to meet me. In many ways, the world has outgrown the current model of governance, which is an over-reliance on national government, but I don’t think national government has caught up with that fact. The new model that we need to move into is one that has mayors as equal partners in shaping policy. Mayors weren’t given the space at Cop26 that I think they should have been. That was a massive missed opportunity.
TB I also think we’re champions for our region around the world – talking to other mayors, leaders and businesses.
MR We’re international players on a level that I don’t think people have understood. Straight after the Brexit referendum, I went over to Brussels. We have a lot of organisations in Bristol that need access, so what could we do as a city to keep these channels open? This kind of place-to-place diplomacy is growing. In Bristol, we’ve got 180 countries of origin, 92 languages, 45 religions. If we learn to use that diversity, we can represent global Britain in a way that national government is finding quite difficult.
TB As the only female metro mayor in the country, what’s also been useful is reaching out to other female mayors across the world.

You’ve had very different paths to the mayoralty. Why did you each decide to run?
Growing up in a council flat in Batley, and then being able to follow my dreams of being an actor, with no connections or family money, I understood that all that happened because of Labour governments: social security, social housing, free libraries, good education. Young people in Batley and Spen now don’t have the same life chances. I was a campaigner for devolution in parliament. I was looking around for a woman to support and realised that because of Covid we had to have someone with a bit of cut-through. Deciding to stand myself was quite terrifying, but I’m powered by that sense of injustice: some have opportunities and some don’t. Politics is fun as well. Using those skills of acting and writing to create social change is the gift that keeps on giving.
MR I’ve realised how many of my motivations actually come from my mum. My mum was a white woman in 1972, brown baby on the way. Before I was born, she was told that if she was a good person, she’d have me aborted. When she gave birth, a healthcare worker told her that if she was a good person, she’d give me up for adoption. I was aware that my brown self was a source of vulnerability for my mum. It was normal in the 80s for people to shout: “Go back to your country.” I’ve lived the best and the worst of my city. After university I thought, how can I make the world better? I’d sworn off politics because I thought it was corrupt and could not be saved. I worked for charities. I became a BBC journalist. I worked in mental health. Then I got involved in Operation Black Vote. I came back from the US in 2011 and did the Labour party Future Candidates Programme and they had a session on mayors. I didn’t go to it because I thought, why would anyone want to be a mayor? Then Bristol voted [in favour of] a mayor, and a councillor called Margaret Hickman said: “You should put yourself forward.” Kerry McCarthy, my local MP, came to support me, and I thought, what, so people genuinely believe in me? It took me a year before I could comfortably say to people, “Yeah, I’m the mayor of Bristol,” because I felt like an impostor.
TB There is that connection with your lived experience. When I was at university, a guy tried to rape me in the street. Trying to understand why it happened got me into feminism in the 80s and I found a real sense of belonging in the women’s movement. I absolutely know that the work I’m now doing as police and crime commissioner, putting the safety of women and girls at the centre of everything we do, is connected to that incident. I often say to young people that what you think is the worst time in your life can potentially be the rocket fuel that gets you to a better place.

I’m enormously accessible. I’ve been told on numerous occasions: ‘I voted for you because you’re one of us’Tracy Brabin

How do you balance accessibility to the public with personal security?
I’m enormously accessible. I’ve been told on numerous occasions: “I voted for you because you’re one of us.” Of course, having come from Batley and Spen, I understand how that privilege of living your life as an ordinary person can end overnight. I had the most death threats and abuse when I was an MP during Brexit – we had to have police at my surgeries. But, so far, it’s a very different vibe as mayor. Old men kiss my hand; young people want a photo. But I think people of colour in senior roles get more abuse. Is that true, Marvin?
MR Yeah, I’ve had a bit. A healing moment for me was when we knocked on a door in a white, working-class area in 2012 and someone said: “Oh yeah, I’m voting for Marvin. He’s one of us.” We were transcending some of these boundaries. I’ve had hate mail. Some of it is nonsense; some might be a bit serious. Someone did write on the pavement outside my house once: “Marvin must die.” My neighbour said he would have put a T on the end of it: “Marvin must diet.” [Laughs] Which I would have found more offensive.

Marvin, what was it like navigating the Colston controversy?
I’m a mixed-race guy. I’ve lived across these boundaries, moving with a dynamic sense of self all the time. I guess I took that attitude into what happened. There were lots of complexities. Black people didn’t pull that statue down: a black comic on TV said it was probably more Tarquin than Tyrone. Some people have said to me, “Don’t talk about race because you’ll divide the left,” and then they arrive with BLM T-shirts. We’ve got to live together. We can’t be like Priti Patel, creating binary options. I actually enjoy pulling back these layers and showing that things aren’t always what you think you see.

Do you think about what comes next?
It’s hard to think about next week, let alone years ahead. I’m hoping to be re-elected. That’s a really good chunk of time to make change. I want to be able to point at things, which I couldn’t as an MP, and say: “I did that. My team did that.”
MR I’ve got a commitment to trying to make the world fairer and we’ll see what platforms I can find. It may be in politics; it may not be. I don’t look around and see a position in elected politics that’s better than being a mayor.
TB The world is your oyster, Marvin!

After this conversation took place, Bristolians voted in a referendum to abolish the post of mayor in 2024, and replace it with a committee system, in which decisions are taken by groups of councillors. We caught up with Rees for his reaction.

MR I think it’s a shame for the city. At the last mayoral election, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives ran on a scrap-the-mayor platform, and they lost by quite a long way. But the councillors brought a motion to hold a referendum and they won it because the Greens switched and opposed the mayoral system. I’m not totally surprised by the result. The big threats were low turnout and a poor-quality debate, and that’s what we had. People are going to lose the opportunity to directly elect a leader of the city. I think Bristol will lose some national and international leadership positions. But I hope I’m wrong. It doesn’t impact on me. I said before the last election that I was going to stand down at the end of my second term. What I’m trying to do in my final two years is deliver on as many of the big programmes we’ve lined up as I can. Hopefully that momentum will sustain Bristol into the future for a period of time. We’ll see.

The first thing Andy Burnham and Joanne Anderson discuss over Zoom is their remarkably similar origins, but their mayoralties could hardly be more different. Burnham is a year into his second term as mayor of Greater Manchester, having been re-elected with a whopping mandate. After 16 years in Westminster, which included two failed bids for the Labour leadership, the former member for Leigh seems unleashed by his current job. His clash with the government over tier-based Covid restrictions in October 2020 earned him the nickname “King of the North” and made him the bookies’ favourite to succeed Starmer, despite the fact that he’s not an MP.

Anderson worked in equality, diversity and inclusion, and served as a councillor for two years before being elected mayor of Liverpool – the first black woman to win such a post. Her role, heading the city council, predates the creation of a metro mayor for the region in 2017. In May last year she inherited a city in chaos, following the arrest of her predecessor, Joe Anderson (no relation) on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation (he denies all wrongdoing, and a Merseyside police investigation is ongoing). Citing a “serious breakdown of governance”, the government appointed a team of commissioners to oversee several of the council’s operations. Anderson’s term will end prematurely next year when a city-wide consultation will decide whether to retain or abolish her post. For both mayors, the future is wide open.

Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, and Joanne Anderson, mayor of Liverpool.Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, and Joanne Anderson, mayor of Liverpool. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Andy Burnham Were we born in the same year?
Joanne Anderson Wikipedia has got it wrong. I’m fuming! Of all the nonsense that gets written about me, that’s the thing I’m most upset about. I’m 7 January 1971 and you’re 7 January 1970, is that right?
AB Correct. And probably only a few miles apart. I was born in Aintree and you were born whereabouts?
JA The women’s hospital on Mill Road. Andy’s been really supportive. Lots of men offered me unsolicited advice and only a couple offered me support: Andy Burnham and Marvin Rees.
AB Phew.
JA Andy had a good reputation in our city because of Hillsborough [Burnham successfully lobbied for a second inquiry into the 1989 disaster]. Looking at Andy’s background – Catholic family, Everton supporters – we’ve been brought up culturally in the same way, to say what you think and be very straight and honest about it.
AB How long were you in London, Joanne?
JA I worked in London for 10 years – but people used to twitch when I talked.
AB There’s such a parallel. We were born in almost the same year and the same place. I lived in London for 10 years in my 20s. It’s a bit odd that we’ve both ended up where we’ve ended up.

I was falling out of love with politics in Westminster, and being a mayor has brought me back to what it’s all aboutAndy Burnham

Why did you both want to run for mayor?
I guess it was linked to my journey through Westminster. It was never my natural habitat. I had to learn to live there, as a lot of people from a more working-class background do, but then you get a number of years in, and think: am I being myself here? And am I doing what I want to do? The parliamentary system can make a fraud out of people because it asks them to do and say certain things. I hit a fork in the road where I had to decide whether to be true to myself or to toe the line. I developed a degree of independence. When I first heard the role of Greater Manchester mayor was coming, I dismissed it, but I found myself coming back to it and thinking it may well be right for me, and it has been. I’ve found it quite liberating and energising. You can do more, of more immediate relevance to people, than you ever can in the Westminster system. I was falling out of love with politics, and it’s brought me back to what it’s all about.
JA I had no ambition to be mayor at all. I think I’ve ended up as mayor for strange reasons. First of all, I and other women in the region were furious that there were no female leaders represented in the combined authority. I’d been really active in the trade union movement when I was younger, and I was on a fast track into political life but rejected it because I found it quite frustrating. It’s what you were saying, Andy – being told what to say. It turned me against politics. As a local councillor, I was frustrated about the lack of ability to change anything. I saw my city in real peril. I knew I had the thick skin to do the role. I knew what I was letting myself in for. Coming to that role with my whole professional experience behind me, I was quite secure in myself.
AB I feel that’s ideal, because the role requires a combination of personality and perspective. In the end, it is place first rather than party first. Obviously you have that loyalty, but if you start with “my party, right or wrong”, I think you’ll end up not doing the job properly. You could argue that you landed in the job, but actually it was the right path.
JA I don’t like grandstanding, I don’t like political point-scoring, I don’t like engaging in behaviours that politicians engage in. You can tell I haven’t been a politician my whole life. I’m only prepared to be myself. It’s too late to change.

You’re different kinds of mayor. Where do you overlap?
It’s bizarre, isn’t it, the mayor structure? People are very confused. I do work with core city leaders from Manchester. Where I overlap with the combined authority is international work. And, of course, the Labour party.
AB I think as people get used to the system, they’ll understand the differences between Steve [Rotheram, metro mayor for the Liverpool city region] and myself looking after things like transport, and city leaders running specific services within the city. We’re new to it as a country. It’s been five years for me. In some ways it’s gone quickly, but in other ways not, given the enormity of what we’ve had to deal with. Looking back, the level of turbulence is quite staggering. Two weeks in, the Manchester Arena bombing – an evil act of terror in the heart of the city. Wildfires, floods, the pandemic. The north of England has had a tough time. We’ve been promised a lot of things around levelling up, but it’s just not happened, so having a voice to challenge that lack of delivery has been really important.

I promised a clearer focus on equality, diversity and inclusion; social value; and environmental impact. I’m really proud of thatJoanne Anderson

Which achievements would you liked to be judged on?
Homelessness was the big issue when I came in, and I knew it was risky to make a big promise on it because the budget wasn’t there. But you have to show the right leadership on something that needs to change. We’ve built an infrastructure and partnership across all 10 boroughs that has turned the situation around. I’m proud of the free bus pass for 16-18s. I was determined to do something for that age group. The third is the decision to put buses back under public control and get a public transport system that people can afford again. Giving the north things that London has always had is what we’re all about.
JA Creating some stability for the city and dealing with the commissioners breathing down our neck. Lots of people want to push back and I just felt calm was needed. The budget was a big problem. We’ve put a green bin charge in, which people are really angry about, but we’ve managed to keep the discretionary support payments for people most in need, the children’s centres, the libraries, the leisure centres, while lots of councils haven’t. Personally, I put a triple-lock on the manifesto, saying that every decision we would make would have a clearer focus on equality, diversity and inclusion; social value; and environmental impact. I’m really proud of that.

Andy, do you think your showdown with the government over Covid restrictions was a watershed for the public’s understanding of what mayors can do?
It was a big moment because the handling of the pandemic had brought out a lot of what’s wrong with this country. We were suffering from some of the decisions that were being made. As health secretary, I’d had to deal with swine flu in 2009, so I knew pandemic policy in detail and that gave me a unique ability to engage with them. I tried and tried. My guiding principle in this role is that if the government gets it right, I will say so, and if the government gets it wrong, I will say so. That incident was called grandstanding, but actually there was painstaking stuff going on behind the scenes building up to that. I look back and think we were absolutely right to take the stand we did. That was the role I was elected to do, and I did it for the right reasons. It was a reflection of the immaturity of Westminster that immediately people said, “That’s it for mayors” because we answered them back. Thankfully that hasn’t been true.

What about the future?
My job is timebound. The secretary of state is putting city officials all out for election in 2023. We couldn’t have the referendum that we’d committed to on the mayoral role because it would have cost half a million pounds. We felt the best thing to do was a consultation. The options are committee model, leader model or mayoral model. I’ve pledged to stay out of it. I’ll let the city decide. There’s a Caribbean holiday in 2023 if I’m not the mayor. [Laughs]
AB I’ve said very plainly that I will be serving a full second term.
JA You’re still very young Andy, aren’t you? [Laughs] Very young.
AB I don’t feel it! These roles do age you a little, don’t they? If anything brought me into politics in the first place, it was growing up in the north-west in the 80s: Moss Side, Toxteth, the miners’ strike, Hillsborough. And then I go to Cambridge University. I’ve always believed there are two worlds in this country. The issue is how you change the way the country works with regard to fairness and justice for the regions, and particularly the north. The status quo has been challenged more than it’s ever been challenged before, and I think that’s down to how the mayors have been working together. Bearing that in mind, it doesn’t follow that I’m just waiting to get back to Westminster. The notion that drives speculation is that Westminster is the only show in town.
JA I don’t have experience of Westminster. Sitting in a room with a load of Tories has never been on my to-do list. During Covid, when I was a local councillor, I thought the city council would be able to give me a list of people in need and a list of people who could help, and I’d marry them up. And I realised that we were too big as a local authority and we had to do it at a community level. And I suppose it applies on a grander scale to the regions and Westminster. I’ve always been a big supporter of devolved authority.
AB I think British politics took a wrong turn in the 80s, completely hollowing out local government. That has served us badly over the last three decades, and it wasn’t reversed enough by the government that I was in. I like to think that this new generation of mayors are changing something, and it would feel odd to me to abandon it and go back to the old world of Westminster, which is actually the place that needs to change.


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