Who is running to be mayor of Greater Manchester?

Andy Burnham, the man to beat. Image: Getty.

On 4 May, some of Britain’s biggest conurbations will elect their first metro mayors. These dynamic new figures will be endowed with transport and planning powers of the sort that’ll allow them to regenerate their cities, rebalance the economy and generally make everything brilliant again.

At least, that’s the theory. And to be fair, it’s largely worked in London, and anything which means reducing the ludicrous over-centralisation of English politics must be considered a Good thing, in our book.

Anyway, it’s now less than three months til election day, so, all in all, it’s about time we started looking at the candidates. And, since it was the first city to get a deal, where better to start than Greater Manchester?

The 10 boroughs which make up the combined authority, and their predecessors. Image: Wikipedia.

The favourite has got to be Labour’s Andy Burnham. He’s the only “name” politician in the running, and the party holds nine of the region’s 10 councils, and 22 of its 28 parliamentary constituencies. If he doesn’t win it’ll be a pretty big upset.

That said, I don’t think we can entirely rule it out: Burnham was the favourite for the 2015 Labour leadership election, too, and look what happened then. He’s also a Scouser by birth, rather than a Mancunian, and after attending Cambridge has spent his career in the Westminster bubble, working for various unions and NHS bodies before being elected as a Greater Manchester MP in 2001. As a result, his “good working class northern lad who likes football” shtick never quite rings true.

It’s also quite difficult to work out what he’d do with the job. He’s yet to publish a manifesto, and his record shows a certain ideological flexibility, shall we say. (Key example: as shadow health secretary he was strongly opposed to NHS privatisation, despite being the only health secretary ever to privatise a hospital.)

What’s more, his public pronouncements on the various issues are all pretty vague. He wants more trams, more cycling, and less road congestion... well yes, don’t we all? He’s also criticised the regional planning framework for its plans to release 3 per cent the local green belt for homes – although, to his credit, he’s not ruled out using some green belt, so long as it’s given over to council housing, rather than executive mansions.

All in all, mayoralty is likely to be a mildly populist, largely pragmatic sort of affair, concerned with banging the drum for the north as much as with solving Manchester-specific problems. Ideological flexibility can be quite useful in a mayor (hi, Sadiq): the question is whether Burnham’s more populist instincts will stop him from making the sort of tough decisions the region needs to progress.

The city region today. Image: Google.

Burnham is not only the best known politician running for the job – he’s really the only known politician running for it. Despite speculation that he’d stand as an independent, Jim O’Neill, the economist and former Treasury minister who came up with the whole Northern Powerhouse concept, doesn’t fancy the job. And despite my urging, the architect of the post, former chancellor George Osborne, declined to stand either (because, one presumes, he knew that he’d lose).

So the Conservative candidate will be whizzkid Sean Anstee who, in 2014, became leader of Trafford Council aged just 26, making him both the youngest council leader in Britain, and one of the most senior Tories in Greater Manchester. (As an aside, Anstee has also been in a civil partnership with his partner Thom, a teacher, since 2010, when he was just 22: clearly a man who believes in doing things early.)

Anstee hasn’t published a manifesto yet either – it’s possible I’m jumping the gun by writing this in February, to be honest – but his campaigning so far has focused largely on closing the skills gap, and improving links between education and employers. As part of this, he’s talked about using the mayoralty to create a “Greater Manchester Gap Year” – a sort of combination of work experience and volunteering, for local 18 year olds.

The LibDem candidate is another Trafford councillor, Jane Brophy who, unusually for this race, has already got her website up and running. The “about” page contains this:

 

So there you go.

Brophy is the only woman in the race at the moment, and like LibDems the UK-over is campaigning on a pro-European line. Of the 10 most recent press statements on her site, seven of them are about her opposition to Brexit. (My favourite: “‘Congestion charge isn’t the top answer, the EU is,’ says Mayoral Candidate”.)

Her main policy is opposing the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, and her website has a whole section called “Save Our Greenbelt”. Obviously, she is not concerned about the all-important CityMetric endorsement.

Four other candidates have declared. Peter Clifford of the Communist League is apparently concerned about issues including “policing, tackling anti-Semitism and “declining” health care conditions”. Will Patterson, chair of the Wigan & Leigh Green Party, stepped in as the party’s candidate at the last minute after the untimely death of its previous candidate Deyika Nzeribe.

Then there’s Stephen Morris of the English Democrats, who has a particularly enjoyable website. He’s already promised to invite President Trump to visit Manchester if elected, and more intriguingly has warned that, “Future construction in Greater Manchester will have to include building downwards as well as upwards”. (It’s actually a surprisingly sensible policy to put car parks underneath buildings, like in that episode of Pigeon Street where they save the park.)

UKIP’s candidate is – perhaps unexpectedly – Shneur Odze, a 33 year old Orthodox Jew from Hackney. He must be considered an outsider, but is pushing the standard UKIP line the party’s stance on immigration means it’s the best challenger to Labour in the north. In a recent interview with our parent title the New Statesman he noted:

 “All Andy Burnham’s been going on and on about for months and months is migration and Brexit, because he knows we’re the only people who can beat him. Of course Andy’s the favourite. But look at Donald Trump. Look at Brexit.”

One person who’s not running is the guy who is, effectively, the existing mayor. Tony Lloyd was a Manchester MP for nearly 30 years after 1983, and briefly served as a junior foreign minister in Tony Blair’s government, but left Parliament in 2012 when he was elected Greater Manchester’s first police & crime commissioner. That role is being subsumed into the new metro mayor job, and Lloyd’s term was extended until May 2017, to allow him to serve as the city’s interim mayor until fresh elections could be held.

None of which would be for particularly interesting, except for one thing. The election which carried Lloyd to power was carried out under the supplementary vote system. You know the one: if no one gets 50 per cent of the vote, all but the top two candidates are eliminated, and their votes are distributed by second preferences; whoever has most after that wins.


Except that wasn’t necessary: Lloyd won 51 per cent of the vote for Labour in the first round. His closest rival, the Tory Michael Winstanley, got only 16 per cent.

All of which suggests that this should be a walkover for Labour. This election really is Andy Burnham’s to lose.

Mind you: Andy Burnham, though.

If you’re involved in any of these campaigns, or any others that I may have missed, please do drop me a line.

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

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.