Cllr Sean Anstee, Conservative leader of Trafford Council, has declared his candidacy for the Greater Manchester mayoral election due to be held in May next year.
By throwing his hat in to the ring, the 29-year-old former banker adds a strong local Tory contender to the race against Labour’s Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh.
The Conservative party’s internal selection process began last week; so far Anstee is uncontested. Anstee’s candidacy was announced at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
There are several reasons why Anstee makes the race a lot more open than it might otherwise be given Greater Manchester is a traditional Labour stronghold. Anstee is well known to local residents and has the continuity factor as an incumbent member of the executive board of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, whereas Burnham is seen by many as an outsider who does not have the same grasp of the axis of power in Manchester.
Anstee is well networked and comfortable among the business community as someone who addresses private sector needs and champions development, confident in panel discussions on planning policy issues, such as the crucial GM Spatial Framework that will dictate housing targets and Green Belt release for the next 20 years.
Outside business, he is active in youth engagement and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights. One political marketer told Place North West this morning that as a gay man standing for such a major office before his 30th birthday, he could win votes among young people.
Anstee, member for Bowdon, worked at Bank of New York Mellon in Manchester before becoming a councillor in 2008.
The demographics of the electorate may also be on Anstee’s side. The mayoral race is more akin to a referendum – without constituency or ward boundaries and harder to predict than a typical political election. If more Tories in the moneyed communities of Sale and Altrincham turn out to vote than Labour heartlands to the north and east of the city region, it could tip the vote in his favour.
Anstee is a vocal supporter of Theresa May and has been identified nationally as one to watch, tipped for a place in the Commons in future years. He will be thanked for taking on the baton in a Labour-dominated Northern contest.
Anstee is the only Tory council leader in Greater Manchester and the youngest. He is the lead member for skills and employment at GMCA. Among his non-executive directorships he sits on the board of Trafford Housing Trust.
A political lobbyist in Manchester said the race could be further opened if Labour splits before Christmas as many predict, divided into pro and anti Corbyn members, and two candidates emerge for the GM mayor.
Whatever the outcome, Anstee appears to be in a win-win situation. Either he becomes the first directly elected mayor for the city region or he retains his post as one of the council leaders around the same table.