West Midlands Mayoral Hustings – 2021

After a year off from any sort of democratic activity we’re easing back into things with the West Midlands Metro Mayor election. The Mayoral election is an odd one. Nobody really understands what the Mayor does, not many people really know who the Mayor is, but it’s the only vote we’re getting this year so fill your boots.

This is the first hustings that I’ve written about that has taken place over Zoom. I’ve been writing these up for the last couple of decades so you don’t have to go but as you now don’t actually have to go this might have become a bit redundant. Steve Caudwell (Green) said he hopes we can get back to real hustings as soon as possible but I managed to watch this, drink beer and watch the football all at the same time so I’m a fan. There is less booing with a Zoom hustings. I miss the booing.

It was the usual format. A brief intro from each candidate and then some questions. The hustings were chaired by David from the Moseley Forum and he ably transferred his chaotic approach to a virtual world. With this being entirely run by Moseley Forum we didn’t have to pretend we cared about what was happening in Kings Heath. Which was a relief.

Liam Byrne (Labour) – Liam told us that we can’t go back to the time before COVID because of foodbanks, knife crime and falling life expectancy. He seemed quite vexed that violent crime is spiralling out of control. Is that true? Liam promised that if we make him Mayor he will give us a people’s plan, youth workers, greener things, cleaner things, pocket parks, festivals, more police, and more nature. It would have been quicker to list the things we’re not going to get.

Pete Durnell (Reform UK) – Pete started by hinting that he wasn’t wearing any trousers and then launched into a baffling explanation about an old normal, a new normal and a normal normal. All of these normals seemed to be a dystopian future where we all have to wear masks, or not wear masks, or some combination of masks and not masks. If we make him Mayor he will fight for investment to get as back to the old normal normal. Which wasn’t one of his options.

Steve Caudwell (Green) – Steve told us about the jobs he’s had. Selling TVs, installing air conditioning and running multi million-pound contracts for Jaguar. He reckons, probably correctly, that the climate emergency is the defining issue of our time. He also mentioned poverty in the “seven boroughs”. I’ve never heard of the seven boroughs before. It’s either a weird tribute to The Beastie Boys 2004 Album or people are taking some municipal liberties. The WMCA is not made up of seven boroughs. Steve explained how the voting system works claiming that a first preference vote for him could be based on principle whereas a second preference vote for someone who is likely to win would be practical.

Andy Street (Conservative) – Andy is running on how brilliant the West Midlands has become since he has been Mayor. Which is a bold choice. The booming economy, fantastic transport and end to rough sleeping were all news to me. Andy has an ambitious manifesto that will create 100,000 new jobs and he has a plan to fix the climate by 2041. We also now have a “fully funded” Moseley station. This means we are in a Shrodinger-esque situation where our station both doesn’t exist and does exist at the same time.

Jenny Wilkinson (Lib Dems) – Jenny wants to be a consultative Mayor. Which did sound a bit like she hadn’t got a manifesto but would ask us what to do later if she got the job. But to be fair she has some ideas about Universal Basic Income (UBI), a real Living Wage and building houses for social rent. Which all sound good. Oh, and green stuff. green networks, a green heart of England. It isn’t just Jenny, but everyone seems fixated on putting the word green in front of everything. I suppose it is Moseley.

Questions. There are always questions. All of the questions were filtered, and sometimes edited by David. Equally because I didn’t understand all of them, I’ve had my best guess at what was asked.

Would you re-regulate buses?

Jenny  – Jenny said she is keen on re-regulating buses. She has just given up her car and has found public transport really difficult to use. Why on earth would you give up your car just before fighting a regional election? Give it up in May.

Andy – Andy decided to tell us a story. A story about the Chief Executive of National Express who had, apparently, told him “It’s not working Andy”, and Andy had sat down and fixed the buses. He brought in new technology and fixed the 50 bus. The last time I was on the 50 it seemed fine so maybe this did happen. As he has fixed the buses he wouldn’t re-regulate.

Pete – Pete thinks re-regulating would cost too much and improving network connectivity is more of a priority.

Steve – Steve would re-regulate buses but thinks that reducing the number of cars on the road is more important. Even an electric car can run you over. Steve said that, I’m not adding that for the sake of it.

Liam – Liam is not happy about National Express being a monopoly provider and he thinks we also need an active travel plan. He told a moving story about how he walks across Kings Health park and Highbury Park to get a coffee from Damascena. When he has his coffee he’s always aware of how poor the air quality. As claims he carries an air quality machine thing around with him all the time it’s probably not surprising he is aware of this. Full points for name checking local landmarks. He wouldn’t take the nuclear option of re-regulation off the table.

What do you think will happen to Moseley High Street post COVID?

Pete – Pete thinks cities will change and many shops have now shut for good because people like Amazon.

Steve – Steve is sick of working from home. He thinks we need to try things like UBI to give people space to take risks.

Jenny – Jenny is excited about the opportunities for change. There are opportunities for mixed use residential, retail and leisure. Which sounds like an advert for an office development on Broad Street.

Liam – Liam reckons the social capital that is evident in Moseley is a model for the rest of the region. He wants to invest in the soul of community through festivals, museums and community musical assets. I think this means he has just promised us a bandstand.

Andy – Andy reckons Moseley will be all right. He said that it has been more resilient because it didn’t have chains. I would call Boots and Pizza Express chains but there you go.

There was also an extra little question about what candidates would do about shop rents. For some reason Pete wasn’t allowed to answer this.

The city has become a dumping ground for fly tipping, what would you do about it?

Jenny – Jenny wants to encourage more community ownership and when we catch the people littering we should make them clean it up.

Andy – Andy would like us to all have a bit of a tidy up before the Commonwealth Games, he also reckons Birmingham is dirtier than the other boroughs, or realms or whatever we’re calling them. He learned in business that if you let standards slip people don’t respect you.

Pete – Pete wants to get rid of the booking system at the tips in Sandwell.

Liam – Liam reckons everyone is furious about this. Correctly identifying that pro-fly tipping vote is minimal. He made the point that Birmingham has had the worst budget cuts in history and that has had an impact.

Steve – Steve thinks the WMCA could play a role in active communications about littering and fly tipping. He also thinks people should be able to cross municipal boundaries to use tips. That seems fair.

Has Andy Street failed young people?

Andy –  Andy said it is a fair challenge and he hadn’t achieved all he had promised in his last manifesto. Though he did say he had made progress through the “good years” of 2017, 2018 and 2019. Which is bizarre. Who on earth looks back on 2017, 2018 and 2019 as “good years”? They were awful. They only look good since thousands of people a day started dying.

Liam – Liam ended up being quite passionate about this. Not whether Andy had failed but the catastrophe facing young people. He made a good case that we have an inspirational generation of young people and we shouldn’t let them down.

Jenny – Jenny believes that we can’t have a lost generation and we need to look at the digital poverty that has exacerbated inequality.

Steve – Steve made an interesting point about how some Academies are using their powers to off-roll pupils as they return to school. That’s worrying.

Pete – Pete believes that children haven’t been harmed by COVID but by our reaction to COVID.

How do you reverse the policy of successive Governments to stifle Birmingham’s growth?

Pete – Pete believes we should just “keep banging on about it”. Honestly, we were all losing a lot of energy by this point.

Steve – Steve thinks we need to be brave enough to go to Government and tell them we want to be trailblazers. He added “Who knows, they might agree”. Which seems optimistic. He said that one Council Chief Executive has told him that devolution to regions as a concept was dead. It’s hard to argue with that.

Jenny – Jenny would like to see the West Midlands have the sort of powers that Manchester has. This is always the unsaid thing about the West Midlands Mayor and it’s good Jenny said it.

Liam – Liam claimed that Labour Mayors are driving policy across the country and it’s about time the West Midlands had some of that. Liam had three things he would do (Liam always has three things). 1) He would make the West Midlands the green workshop 2) He would build beautiful neighbourhoods. We didn’t get to the third one.

Andy – Andy repeated the question back in worrying detail and then said he had actually solved most of this in his first term. He has (or had, I got a bit lost with this) a 40 page plan that talked about Life Sciences, professional services and Digbeth. I did notice he didn’t mention driverless cars at all. In the last election he was all over driverless cars.

Would you commit to the Three Million Pledge supporting EU citizens in the UK?

Steve – Steve said he would sign it but it is also easy to sign pledges and not do anything.

Jenny – Jenny would sign it and is worried about the looming deadline for EU citizens.

Andy – Andy said he had to go because he had something else to do. He added that he had just looked up the pledge and wouldn’t commit to it, especially the pledge to give EU citizens in the UK voting rights in local elections.

Liam  – Liam said he would support it and that we need to build bridges with the EU. His kids want to study in EU so it isn’t just bad for the EU it’s also bad for “The Byrne”. It wasn’t clear if he was talking about himself as “The Byrne” which would be odd, or the family unit of Byrnes.

Pete – Pete said he doesn’t sign pledges he hasn’t read. I’m not sure anyone was suggesting that he shouldn’t read it. He also added that he’d heard there were 5 million EU citizens in the UK so maybe the pledge organisers should change the name.

That was the end. David wanted to carry on with questions because he had “a funny one”. Nobody looked enthusiastic about “a funny one”.


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