I was wrong: turns out, Andy Burnham is genuinely popular

The new mayor of Greater Manchester. Image: Getty.

I’ve not always been kind to Andy Burnham. During his 2015 bid for the Labour leadership, I laid into him in the New Statesman, mocking his clumsy attempts to weaponise his own northern-ness, and his tendency to pander to whichever faction of the Labour party happened to be dominant at any one time.

It turned out that there was a sizeable market for mean jokes about Andy Burnham. So, as is the way of these things in the age of social media, I made a lot more of them. There’s an audience participation bit of the CityMetric podcast, where we ask a question on Twitter and then read out the best responses. On the week Burnham was selected as Labour’s candidate to be mayor of Greater Manchester, the question was: “How will he screw it up this time?”

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe Andy Burnham knows something I don’t. Because there is no interpretation of last week’s mayoral elections in which he doesn’t emerge as the big winner.

We may mock his flexible principles; we may roll our eyes at the way a Cambridge graduate who was a special advisor at the age of 24 claims to be from outside the Westminster bubble. But he just stood to be mayor of a city of 2.8m people on a socially progressive platform – and in a field of eight candidates, he won 63 per of the vote. 

A bad day for Labour

A quick recap for those who weren’t reading my liveblog on Friday.

Last week, six English regions elected their first metro mayors. One of them was safe Tory territory (Cambridgeshire & Peterborough). Two were all but a lock for Labour (the Liverpool City Region and Burnham’’s own Greater Manchester).

The other three, though, were more competitive. The West Midlands should also have been safe Labour territory – but thanks to the party’s broader travails and, frankly, the weakness of its candidate Sion Simon, the race was on a knife edge. In the West of England, the use of the supplementary vote system meant it was as a genuine three-way marginal. As for the Tees Valley, it’s faintly shocking that an area focused on Middlesbrough should have become a battleground for Labour – yet somehow it had.

In the end, Labour lost every race it could, despite repeatedly coming almost painfully close. Its candidate in the west of England, Lesley Mansell, made the run off – by no means guaranteed – but still lost to Tory Tim Bowles, 51.6 to 48.4. Another Conservative, Andy Street, won the West Midlands, 50.4 to 49.6; Sion Simon, who has been campaigning for a mayor in his home city of Birmingham for seven years now, lost by under half a per centage point.

As for Tees Valley, Labour’s wonkish and thoughtful candidate Sue Jeffrey lost to a Tory, Ben Houchen, whose campaign consisted of a handful of policies silly enough to garner headlines. On what was a bad day for Labour generally, the mayoral elections showed that the party is under threat from Theresa May’s Tories even in its heartlands. 

Burnham bucked this trend. It isn’t just that he won, which, my trolling aside, was s always probable; he won really, really well.

He won more than 50 per cent of first preferences, meaning there was no need for a run-off. He carried all 10 boroughs including Trafford, where his Tory opponent Sean Anstee leads the council. My colleague Stephen Bush has been crunching the numbers: he tells me that the only Labour-Tory marginals where Labour didn’t fall back, or seats where the UKIP collapse benefited Labour rather than the Tories, all seem to be those in which the Labour candidate was Andy Burnham.

Victory can probably be explained by Manchester’s political make up.  Victory on this scale cannot. All else being equal, you’d expect Steve Rotheram, the new mayor of the Liverpool City Region, to have had the day’s biggest vote share. But while he too won on the first round, he ‘only’ got 59 per cent.

In the 2015 general election, Labour beat the Tories in Greater Manchester by just under 20 points. Since then, most polls have shown the latter gaining and the former fall back – yet Burnham beat Anstee by more than 40. Burnham was clearly selling something that people wanted to buy.

Winning here

So what his explains his success? One possibility is that it’s a fluke of low turnout, just 28.6 per cent; but that doesn’t explain why Rotheram didn’t benefit too. Another is that Burnham was offering popular policies, like free transport for 16 & 17 year olds. But while I wish I lived in a world where policy swings huge numbers of votes, I unfortunately live in this one, so I’m not buying that either.

A more plausible explanation is that it’s Burnham profile that did it.

Individual reputation matters far more in mayoral elections than in parliamentary ones (note the success of independents in past elections), and Burnham is by far the biggest name to stand in any of these races. To many who voted, indeed, he was probably the only familiar figure: that could have swung a few points, enough to move him from victory to landslide. 

But here’s one more possibility: in Manchester, Andy Burnham is genuinely popular. The flipflopping goes unnoticed; the insiders jokes about his favourite cocktail being chips and gravy don’t cut through. We – I – may sneer; but maybe when the voters looked at Andy Burnham, they saw a nice, normal northern bloke who wants to do good things for the north west.

Maybe I was wrong about Andy Burnham – but I’m glad to have been so. Because the north deserves a big local figure to speak up for it – and right now, the Labour party needs all the popular politicians it can get.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Where should London build new cycle routes? TfL has been making some maps

Some of London's busiest cycle routes. Image: TfL's Strategic Cycling Analysis.

“The Strategic Cycling Analysis identifies a number of schematic cycling connections which could contribute to the growth of cycling in London and help achieve the Mayor’s ambitions for Healthy Streets.”

...go on.

“This analysis allows TfL and boroughs to plan for cycling in a more strategic way that aligns with the Healthy Streets Approach.”


“It is not intended to be a completed, prescriptive or ‘top-down’ plan.”

Oh. Well, can’t have everything.

What we can have, though, is maps – lots and lots of lovely maps. If you’re a fan of maps (and if you’re not, why are you even reading this website?), then this is a great report.

Let’s check out some of the best map-y action, shall we?

This one represents “the current understanding of the 2022 network... more than 90km of Cycle Superhighways and 250km of Quietways”.

It shows, basically, what’s already on the table. The dotted purple represents planned quietways; the dotted pink the cycle superhighways. The solid green line are the routes that are already there.

In addition, the violet is the underwhelming “central London network”, while the yellow are the “mini-Holland schemes” in which three boroughs have made significant interventions on their own patch.

Click to expand.

It’s a bit confusing in places – the names of local authorities block out sections of line – and also at least slightly out of date. (Quietway 2, which connects the City to Hackney and Waltham Forest, is largely complete; I suspect it’s not the only one.)

But you can get a sense of London’s growing network of cycle routes. You can see that, as one might expect, plans are much more advanced in inner London.

In the suburbs, by contrast, routes bitty or broken. And some boroughs (Enfield, Kingston, Waltham Forest) are a lot more enthusiastic than others (Barnet, Bromley). Havering doesn’t get anything at all.

You can see that pattern in the next map, too. That one shows which roads currently see the most cyclists:

Click to expand.

Most of them are in an area stretching from Hammersmith to Hackney, and Wood Green down to Streatham. Perhaps surprisingly, though, the suburbs that see the most bikes are those to the south west.

But look – there’s so much untapped demand!

Click to expand.


“The map in Figure 1.2 shows much of the top potential cycle demand is on London’s strategic road network.”

...which means “on really big roads”. So, hmmm.

Anyway, let’s get onto the good stuff. This takes some decoding, but it’s worth it.

Click to expand.

Basically, this is the last two maps overlaid. The routes in green are those in the top 20 per cent of potential demand; those in yellow are those in the top 20 per cent of current demand. Those in red are both.

That suggests the red routes are the really key lines – those which aren’t in the top 20 per cent of current demand purely by circumstance, but because demand there is always likely to be really, really high. Overlaid on that are the blue bits, which mean current of planned cycle routes, plus the areas within 400m of them.

Take that all together, and red lines with no blue bit near them combine high current usage by cyclists, huge long term cyclist demand, and no current cycle route.

Which suggests they might be a good place to build new cycle routes, really.

But of course you need to take into account other things. One is whether the locals are likely to be big cyclists. So this map shows high demand routes, overlaid on areas where residents are more likely to cycle.

Click to expand.

It’s the latter that I find interesting: it excludes a lot of the greener bits of suburbia (Ruislip, Upminster, Orpington). The solidly Tory areas are off the table, while swing seats aren’t – which leads me to suspect there’s a socio-economic thing at work here.

Something else you want to consider when planning cycle routes is how much demand to get to or from a place is likely to change. So this map shows London’s big growth areas – whether that means homes or jobs.

Click to expand.

Nearly 40 years into the Docklands regeneration scheme, it’s still the east where the biggest opportunity lies. But other areas are in play, too: the Wandle Valley, down to Wimbledon; town centres like Croydon, Harrow or Romford; and riverside areas by the Lea or western Thames.

Put all that together, and – drumroll, please – you get some idea where it’d make most sense to build new cycling routes.  

Which brings us to our last map. These are not solid plans (rememeber that disclaimer at the top?), merely an indication of where investment might get the biggest bang for your buck.

Once again, green is the network already planned. Pink are routes which might make useful connections; orange are really useful, and red the most useful of all. (They’re all straight lines because they’re the digital equivalent of drawling on a map with a crayon.)

Basically, the red and orange routes are the ones that are most likely to get suburban quietways or superhighways one day.

Helpfully, the people who made the report have numbered them so you can see where they might go:

Click to expand.

There are a load more maps in the report, should you feel the need. You can read the whole thing here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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