February 06, 2020
Sign up now to get The Waugh Zone, our weekday evening politics briefing, by email.Byrne, after readingIt didn’t get much national attention, but today’s selection of former minister Liam Byrne as Labour’s West Midlands mayoral candidate was a big deal within the party. And if certain stars align, it could be a big deal for Labour’s hopes of recovering from its general election thrashing.
Why The West Midlands Mayoral Election Matters For Labour - And The Tories
The scale of Byrne’s victory was striking. He nearly won his selection outright on first preferences, securing 45% compared to local councillor Pete Lowe’s 29% and Salma Yaqoob’s 26%. After second preference transfers, he won comfortably.
So, what does this tell us about the current state of Labour? Well, Byrne is a former cabinet minister who is one of the few frontbenchers to have served Blair, Brown, Miliband and Corbyn. His passionate commitment to tackling issues like homelessness, alcoholism and poverty has won him the endorsement of John McDonnell.‌
Yet it was Byrne’s association with ‘centrism’ that led Momentum and other parts of the Left to campaign against him and back his rivals. During one particularly bitter point in the selection contest, he hit out at Momentum after false attacks on his record, slamming the “toxic culture that poisons our politics”.
Both Momentum and Unite nationally backed Yaqoob, but her third place suggests they made a major miscalculation about the strength of her support. That doesn’t bode well for their combined strength in the coming leadership election, where Keir Starmer is (like Byrne) uniting a combination of soft left, centre-left and left votes. Unite’s vote backing for Richard Burgon in particular (rather than Angela Rayner) could leave it out on a limb under the new leadership come this summer.
Momentum too may be feeling a lot less influential tonight after the Byrne result. Critics mutter that the NEC deliberately delayed the West Midlands selection process solely to benefit Yaqoob. The former Respect Party leader stood against Labour as recently as the 2017 general election but was allowed to join the party last year, a move that stunned MPs (not least Naz Shah, against whom Yaqoob had stood in Bradford in a singularly vitriolic campaign).‌
And it’s that delay that means that Labour has only now selected its candidate for one of the biggest regional political jobs in the country - just three months before polling day on May 7. Tory incumbent Andy Street has had four years in which to build his profile and reach, and is likely to get another boost once Boris Johnson confirms the HS2 rail link from London to Birmingham. Just as worrying for many in Labour, Jeremy Corbyn won’t be replaced as leader until April 4, just five weeks before the mayoral election.
Add in the fact that there are now five new Tory MPs in the West Midlands (one of whom took West Bromwich East after Labour selected local Momentum activist James Cunningham) and it’s not hard to see how the Conservatives have the local organisation and presence to help Street get re-elected.
The extra difficulty for Labour is that Birmingham City Council is up for all-seat elections next year rather than this, reducing the party’s chances of getting an uplift in turnout in its key heartland in the West Midlands constituency.
Don’t forget too that this working class region was one of the most solid Leave-voting areas in 2016, and they may like the look of Boris Johnson’s ‘Brexity Hezza’ combination of Euroscepticism married with big infrastructure projects. Oh, and the Tories are bound to chuck at Byrne his infamous note in 2010 that ‘there is no money’.
So, all in all, it’s a tough mountain for Byrne to climb. But getting to the summit is well worth it for any newly-elected Labour leader. The party is expected to get its own Mayors reelected in Remainer-voting London, Greater Manchester and Merseyside this May.
Winning back a Tory mayoralty in a Brexity conurbation would send a powerful signal that Labour was at least on the road to recovery after the 2019 disaster. It’ll certainly be the result to watch on May 7.Quote Of The Day“At times in our history there have been moments when we have had to stand up and go to protect people all over the world. In Sierra Leone, and Rwanda, those people cannot wait for us to go and ballot Labour party members.”
Lisa Nandy criticises Richard Burgon’s plans for Labour reformCheat SheetGovernment sources confirmed that Boris Johnson is to nominate former chancellors Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke for peerages. Former Labour MPs Ian Austin and John Woodcock will be recommended as non-aligned peers.
A new IpsosMORI poll of voters found that Keir Starmer was the clear favourite of the four Labour leadership contenders when judged on ‘having what it takes to be a good prime minister’. He had a +7 rating, compared to Lisa Nandy on -3, Emily Thornberry on -21 and Rebecca Long-Bailey on -28. Starmer was the most likely to attract new voters to Labour.
Derek Mackay, the Scottish government’s finance minister, quit his post and was suspended as a member of the SNP after the Scottish Sun revealed he had sent messages to a 16-year-old boy. The news broke just hours before he was due to deliver next year’s budget in Holyrood.
The House of Commons Commission launched a withering attack on John Bercow for using his memoirs to identify current and former members of staff for “the purpose of financial gain or commercial success”.‌
Liz Truss (aka ‘Lyn’ Truss), the international trade secretary, launched a consultation on trade tariffs after Brexit. She claimed they would lead to cheaper prices for consumers.What I’m ReadingWhy Bernie Sanders Supporters Should Be Thanking Mayor Pete - SlateGot A Tip?Send tips, stories, quotes, pics, plugs or gossip to waugh.zone@huffpost.com. Subscribe To Commons People Each week, the HuffPost UK Politics team unpack the biggest stories from Westminster and beyond. Search for Commons People wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe.
Our guest this week is UK in a Changing Europe’s Anand Menon. Hear us chinwag about the PM’s big Brexit speech, media wars and that Tory broadcast featuring a Labour voter. Click HERE to listen.Related... Boris Johnson Dodges Scrutiny After Brexit, with Professor Anand Menon Boris Johnson's Reshuffle Will Likely Result In Cabinet 'Filled With Men', Says Senior Tory I Wore Trackies And A Football Shirt In Parliament – Where’s My Abuse?
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