Metro Mayors: Does anybody really care?
Who cares about the mayoral elections? That is the question candidates, agents and activists have been asking themselves as postal votes have started to trickle into the returning officers in Greater Manchester and Liverpool this week. Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election has sucked what little oxygen there was from the mayoral campaigns, and has given the regional media an excuse not to pay them too close attention.
In Greater Manchester, national media attention has focused around the Gorton by-election and George Galloway’s decision to stand. Meanwhile in Liverpool, the focus centred around whether or not frontrunner Steve Rotheram would stand down as MP for Walton.
For the candidates, who are all running fairly low-budget campaigns for such a large electorate, the snap General Election means that they will all try to focus their resources on social media adverts and activists in areas where their support is already strong, rather than traditional get-out-the-vote strategies.
Postal votes are starting to be returned, with insiders suggesting that turnout is hovering around 20% – on a par with Police and Crime Commissioner elections, but lower than local and national elections.
Such a low turn-out could present question marks over the legitimacy of Metro Mayors to act as the voice of a City Region, especially when there are well known local government leaders already in place. This is one reason why in the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram has generally shunned small campaign events on specific issues in favour of events with a wider appeal.
Should the two frontrunners in Greater Manchester and Liverpool win on 4 May, they can at least count on their personal profile as former MPs to court the spotlight. It will be harder for the less well-known candidates, with a media more focussed on what happens in Westminster than elsewhere, to attract the attention that their election would deserve.
Despite the public’s lack of enthusiasm for the mayoral contests and doubts about whether some of the powers being handed to the winners would make it into legislation before Parliament is dissolved, what remains clear is that we are all at the beginning of a new era in local government. One that will continue to see more powers handed to Metro Mayors over time, and one that business will need to prioritise and engage with over the coming months and years.
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