Andy Burnham was yesterday selected as Labour candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester.
Given GM’s voting record that means that barring something extraordinary happening he will become mayor next May. Though based on the last year in British politics generally and the Labour Party specifically, you’ve got to be pretty brave to bet against the extraordinary these days.
There are some in local government who see national politicians such as Mr Burnham as Johnny-Come-Latelies to local politics and who feel patronised by the assertion that these new mayoral items require national cabinet level experience. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for that view especially when we observe how many inspirational local leaders have fundamentally reshaped and reformed their local areas. Nonetheless, as localists, we should recognise that attracting big names from national to local politics is a clear mark of success.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester is going to be a hugely influential post. Manchester has the most far reaching powers of any devolution deal announced to date and this will make Mr Burnham the most powerful labour politician in the country after Sadiq Kahn. And of course we will see mayors in other city regions such as Liverpool, who are announcing the candidate later today, the North East and the West Midlands.
It’s really significant that most of these mayors are likely to be Labour. It’s been true for some time that there’s been greater energy and invention in local Labour politics than in the national party. One of Labour’s key failings under Ed Milliband was failing to learn from its local government. But with the creation of these new posts coinciding with the implosion of the PLP we will effectively see functional opposition switch from the national to the local.
That’s a fundamental inversion of British politics and that’s why these selections matter so much