Announced yesterday as the Labour nominee for Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham MP is likely to be a shoo-in come the election next May. But the hard work isn’t over, as he’ll face various challenges if and when he takes office.
Calling the shots. Manchester’s top dogs have been in place for some time, with council leader Sir Richard Leese and chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein forming a powerful duo since the 1990s. Whether Burnham will be able to carve out a role for himself with any meaningful leverage, in the face of what is a well-oiled political machine, remains to be seen. Burnham has also ruffled the feathers of long-time local politicians, by previously suggesting only someone with Cabinet experience should be mayor.
A public imposition. Manchester’s residents very clearly voted against the idea of a directly elected mayor back in 2012, only to have the wider role for all 10 boroughs forced on them as part of the devolution deal with central government agreed in 2014. The political elite might have preferred more of a ‘yes man’ to work with the status quo, and Burnham was certainly not Leese’s favourite, who backed rival Ivan Lewis.
Swimming against the tide. Labour-led Manchester made great gains with the last Conservative government, but to say the political landscape has changed since the devolution deal is an understatement. The Northern Powerhouse was former Chancellor George Osborne’s pet project, but he’s returned to the backbenches, while new Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet choices reflect a Southern bias with only one Northern member, from Yorkshire. The government has been tightlipped on the extent of its commitment to the North, and with his Westminster contacts it could fall to Burnham to attempt to extract that promise.
Too many cooks. The mayor will be the eleventh member of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, sitting alongside the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities. A unanimous 11 votes will be required in order to make certain decisions, and while that gives Burnham a power of veto, it also means that he has a lot of people to get on side should he wish to flex his mayoral muscles and pass policies that he can take credit for.
Building bridges. The mayoral position comes with additional powers over planning, and responsibility for the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. Dealing with political hot potatoes such as green belt release and housing supply is tricky enough, but Burnham hasn’t demonstrated much more than a cursory knowledge of regeneration issues, and has already played the blame game with the property community after referring to housebuilding as “over-development”. Now he’s said he wants to solve the housing crisis, so will need to make friends fast.