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.

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A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

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.