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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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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