High-profile candidates lining up for Midlands mayor

Patrick Burns
Political editor, Midlands

  • Published
Andy StreetImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Becoming the Conservative candidate would mean Andy Street having to step down from one of the biggest jobs in British retailing to embark on a political campaign

Suddenly my email inbox was working overtime.

First came a brief, Delphic, statement from the Conservative Party.

Their (so far unnamed) candidate for elected mayor across the West Midlands would be announced shortly before the start of the party conference in Birmingham, where their plans would be set out "to make the West Midlands an even more prosperous and successful part of the country".

I didn't have to spend very long scratching my head puzzling over what this might mean.

It's been one of the worst-kept secrets for months that Andy Street, the Birmingham-educated boss of John Lewis and Chairman of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, was thinking of throwing his proverbial hat into the ring as the potential Conservative candidate for the role.

Image source, AP
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Andrew Mitchell thinks the Conservatives should choose Andy Street as their candidate

The Sutton Coldfield MP and former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said months ago that if Mr Street was interested, the party should "bite his hand off".

A mere eight minutes after that first mail shot, with thudding inevitability, into the inbox came another, this time, surprise surprise, from the aforementioned local enterprise partnership:

"It has been announced that Andy Street has applied to be the Conservative candidate for the West Midlands Mayoral Election.

"As a result, he has decided to step down as chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, with immediate effect."

It remains to be seen if anyone will see fit to challenge him for the honour of being paraded before the cameras at the start of Theresa May's first party conference as Prime Minister.

That would mean Mr Street also having to step down from one of the biggest jobs in British retailing to embark on a political campaign which would be, to say the least, ultra high risk.

Image source, Labour Party
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Sion Simon is Labour's candidate to be the Midlands mayor

With eight months to go until polling, most observers would have Labour as strong favourites, despite the travails of the party nationally.

Mr Street's commendable level of commitment reminds me of a joke told at a breakfast time conference where we were invited to consider the difference between making a commitment and a contribution.

"Take the the bacon and eggs in your plates. The hen has made a contribution. But it's the pig that has made the commitment."

Intriguingly, a similar crack could have been made at the expense of his Labour opponent, the former Birmingham Erdington MP turned West Midlands MEP, Sion Simon.

He announced just three months before the 2010 general election that he was standing down from a parliamentary career which had seen become a minister, first, at the Business Department and subsequently at the Culture Department.

Image source, PA
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Voters in Birmingham have twice rejected the idea of having an elected mayor

And the reason for his self-sacrifice?

To give himself the chance of running for elected mayor of Birmingham.

In the event the contest never materialised, so Mr Simon had forsaken Westminster in vain.

Not once but twice, the voters of the city overwhelmingly rejected the very idea.

So the message to both Messrs Street and Simon: Be careful what you wish for.

'In with a chance'

Completing this line-up for the three main Parliamentary parties, Beverley Neilsen has been chosen as the Liberal Democrats' candidate.

A successful businesswoman, she is a former regional director of the employers' organisation the CBI and also a former chief executive of the Heart of England Tourist Board.

Her party leader Tim Farron says she is "in with a chance", even though this is a region where the Liberal Democrats have long struggled to punch their full weight, even when their prospects have been far more favourable than they are now.

I shall be asking her party leader Tim Farron about that in this week's Sunday Politics Midlands, which returns to our screens after the summer recess.

I'll also be talking to arguably the biggest name so often mentioned in conversations about elected mayors, but conspicuously absent from this roll call so far: The former trade minister Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham.

In the studio

In an exclusive interview for our programme, he has some characteristically trenchant things to say.

To find out what they are you will just have to join us.

Labour's mayoral candidate Sion Simon MEP will be joining me in the studio.

So too will the Conservative MP for West Worcestershire and defence minister Harriett Baldwin and the former Liberal Democrat MP for Solihull, Lorely (now Baroness) Burt.

Remember if it's Sunday , it's the Sunday Politics at 11.00 on BBC One in the Midlands.