What does the snap election mean for the metro mayor elections?

These lads are probably still winners: Labour's candidates in the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham. Image: Getty.

You know, I was almost getting excited. With just under three weeks left until this year’s metro mayor elections on 4 May, I thought, England's cities were at long last coming to the fore. Finally, it would be devolution’s time to shine.

And then Theresa May had to go and blow it all by announcing an unexpected election on 8 June. Bummer.

But what does the snap election mean for the mayorals? Here’s my best guess.

1) It’ll be good for turnout

This might seem counter-intuitive: most people don’t care about politics, and expecting them to vote, just a month before they have to vote again for something more important, looks like taking the mickey somewhat. But I reckon it’s true nonetheless.

Here’s my logic. Turnout in the locals was always going to be appalling: one mayoral candidate predicted to me it’d be 20 per cent, which, bleurgh. But a general election will raise the general level of political awareness, making people more likely to vote.

It’s entirely possible, indeed, that some people will show up on 4 May thinking it’s actually election day. Not many, no; but my guess is that there are more of those than there are people who would have voted, but will now ignore the locals on the grounds that they only vote once a year and national government is more important.

So – we can’t be sure, and the lack of a control group means we’ll never know what turnout would have been without a general election (which is great, as it means you can’t prove me wrong). But if pushed, I reckon this announcement will be good for mayoral turnout.

2) It’ll be bad for Labour

In mayoral elections, more than any other, people for individuals, not parties. This graphic by Matthew Smith charts the history of England’s modern mayoralties: just look how many independents have won.

But a general election campaign will make people more likely to view these elections through the prism of Westminster – to think less about personality and local issues, and more about the parties’ leaders. And, all the evidence suggests that if people are thinking about Jeremy Corbyn when they go to the polls, they are less likely to vote Labour.

So my guess is, where Labour can lose, Theresa May just ensured that it will.

3) Predictable results are still predictable

According to the elections expert Professor John Curtice, if you combine previous election results with national swing since, Labour has about 12 point advantage in Manchester and a 35 point one in Merseyside. The Tories, meanwhile, should be more than 30 points ahead in Peterborough & Cambridgeshire.

We knew who would win those elections before 11am yesterday: we still know now.

4) The West Midlands will go blue

This is meant to be the marginal one: Curtice reckons it’s neck and neck here.

Well, swing voters just became more likely to see the election as May vs Corbyn rather than Street vs Simon. They are, if I’m right on point 1, more likely to turn out, too.

So my guess is: Andy Street wins the West Midlands.

5) So, shockingly, could Tees Valley

Labour’s Sue Jeffrey is campaigning very hard here. But word last week was that Labour's NEC were worrying about the poor reception the party was getting on the doorstep (that man Corbyn's name kept coming up; don’t shoot the messenger, guys). And in a Middlesbrough council byelection over the weekend, the party lost a seat it’s held for 18 years to a Tory on an 8 per cent swing.

This really should be an easy win for Labour: according to Curtice, even taing into account an 8 point swing nationally, it should be around 5 points ahead. But I think it’s entirely possible that Tory Ben Houchen could carry this one.


6) The LibDems could carry the West of England

Okay this one is more speculative, but bear with me. In this area – basically, Greater Bristol – the Tory Tim Bowles has to be the favourite too.

But the LibDems are stronger here than elsewhere, and have a reasonably well-known candidate, in the former MP Stephen Williams. What’s more, the next couple of months are likely to be a good election cycle for the LibDems, as disaffected Remain voters seek a way to protest against Brexit. Those same voters are among the most likely to turnout at any election (richer, more educated).

Williams is still the outsider. But were I a betting man, it might be worth a flutter.

7) No one will pay any attention to the candidates or manifestos

It was pretty difficult attracting any attention to these elections before the general election hullaballoo. That may have changed.

But not all attention is equal – and while I suspect a Tory upset in the Tees Valley will attract national press attention, it won’t be because of Ben Houchen’s plans to take the Durham Tees Valle airport back into public ownership. It's all horserace, all the time from here on in.

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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Cats and dogs and Pokémon and ball pools: The eight joyful trains of Japan

Okay, it may not look like much, but... the exterior of the Genbi Shinkansen art experience. Image: ©Mika Ninagawa, used courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery.

If you’re on this website, you’ll likely agree with the statement: trains are good. We like trains. Trains are marvellous.

But in Britain our idea of a good train is “runs on time, doesn’t smell of wee, possibly has a spare seat”. Our national rail ambition has been battered by years of this crap: the most exciting we can hope for is to catch sight of the Orient Express as it flashes through a station, or a ride on the Settle to Carlisle railway.

Yet in Japan, there are trains dedicated to art and sake and Pokemon. There’s a train with a ball pool, for Christ’s sake.

These trains aren’t usually part of the ‘real’ timetable (that is, they don’t show up in the regular searches), and sometimes only run on specific days, they do still run proper routes. The Tohoku Emotion, for instance (all about dining; one car is an open kitchen) runs between Hachinohe and Kuji, adding a direct train between those cities in an otherwise annoying two hour gap.


Cost is, of course, another issue. It’s not possible to book many of these trains outside Japan so prices are tricky to come by, and some of the dining packages on offer will obviously involve laying down some hefty yen.

That said, the Kawasemi Yamasemi, an exquisitely decorated train that runs three times every day direct between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi in central Kyushu, costs about the same as travelling between the two on the bullet train (it’s faster too, because it’s direct). And I’m happy to bet the farm that any of these trains will cost a damn sight less than Japan’s newest, shiniest novelty train – and probably be more fun.

So without further ado, here are some of the best – and this really is what they’re called – Joyful Trains in Japan.

Pokémon with YOU

Yes, there really is a Pokémon train. Introduced in Tohoku to cheer up – and raise money for – the region’s children after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the service runs between Ichinoseki and Kesennuma stations, and if Niantic hasn’t worked out a way to put special Pokémon Go characters at each station, it’s missing a trick. There’s a playroom with big Snorlax cushions, the Drilbur Tunnel and real life Poké balls. And, as far as we can tell, a seat costs less than a fiver.

Oh, and because it’s run by JR East, you can do a Google Street View walkthrough of the whole train, which are available for many of the company’s Joyful Trains. Japan. Is. Awesome.

Image: Google Street View.

Tama-Den

If cute character-themed trains are your thing, then you should also check out the Tama-Den which runs on the Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa line. Tama, you may recall, was a calico cat who became feted as a stationmaster, and elevated into a goddess when she died in 2015. (Her replacement, Tama II, works a five day week at Kishi station.) The Tama-Den is covered in drawings of her. And you thought your cat was spoiled.

Meow? Image: as365n2/Flickr/creative commons.

The same company also runs the Omo-den, which is all about toys and has cash-guzzling capsule toy vending machines on board.

Aso Boy!

Where there’s a cat train, there must also be a dog. Aso Boy! usually takes you past the caldera of Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan, but since the Kumamoto earthquake the route is altered.

 But even with the lack of its main scenic draw, this is still a top train because it features the cutest of all Japan’s regional mascots. Kuro is JR Kyushu’s yuru-chara and the damnably adorable dog gets everywhere. It’s one-up on the Tama-Den because you can buy Kuro-themed food and souvenirs, and this is the train with the ball pool.

The balls are wooden though. Ouch.

On board Aso Boy! Image: Jill Chen/Flickr/creative commons.

Genbi Shinkansen

The bullet train is cool enough, but this one is decorated inside and out with the work of eight modern artists. Running between Niigata and Echigo-Yuzawa, the Genbi Shinkansen reckons it’s the world’s fastest art experience. With a journey time of just under an hour, works range from standard wall-mounted paintings to art that’s literally part of the furniture.

Images: ©Mika Ninagawa, used courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery.

SL Ginga

Not only is this train hauled by a steam locomotive, it has a freaking planetarium on board. It’s inspired by children’s author Kenji Miyazawa’s book Night on the Galactic Railroad which is set in the early 20th century, and the decor is meant to echo that era. There are galleries devoted to Miyazawa’s life, and the train runs between Hanamaki – where he was from – and Kamaishi.

Image: Google Street View.

FruiTea Fukushima

The whole of Fukushima province has been tainted by association with its namesake nuclear power plant, which is deeply unfair as it’s a gorgeous part of the country.

To drum up tourism, the FruiTea train went into service a couple of years ago on the standard line connecting Koriyama to Aizu-Wakamatsu, a castle-and-samurai town. There are several Joyful Trains dedicated to eating and drinking, but this one deserves a mention because its locally produced fruit snacks and drinks deserve wider recognition. As does the area.

Here’s your Google Street View walkthrough:

Image: Google Street View.

Shu*Kura

There are three Shu*Kura trains, all departing from Joetsumyoko but with different destinations. This is another train dedicated to eating and, well... drinking.

Niigata Prefecture claims to brew the finest sake in the world, and this three car service showcases the best of them. It also has live music and snacks, but the point here is that you can stand at a sake cask-themed bar and get tiddly without anyone judging you, like they would for that M&S prosecco.

And check out the lights on that thing.

Image: Google Street View.

Toreiyu Tsubasa

This is the train to catch if you want to go full Japan. Most of the cars don’t have seats, they have tatami mats and low tables instead, billed as a ‘conversation space’.

There’s another tatami car designed as more of a lounge for people after they’ve used the footbath. Yes, you did read that correctly. A footbath. You’re not going to want your shoes with all this tatami anyway, and it’s a unique way to view the scenery between Fukushima and Shinjo.

Image: Google Street View.

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