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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What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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