On 6 May, voters go to the polls in a bonanza of parliamentary, mayoral and local authority elections across England and Wales. The results of these races will have a major impact on the post-Covid recovery and on the government’s levelling up agenda.
Camargue has summarised the races for England’s metro mayors and Senedd Cymru / the Welsh Parliament to help you cut through the noise and understand the state of play in each race.
You can also get in touch if you’d like more information on what any of May’s election races could mean for your business.
North of England
Tests in Teesside
Kat Wingate on who will become Metro Mayor in Tees Valley
As the unlikely testing ground for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership and Rishi Sunak’s levelling up agenda, Tees Valley Combined Authority is receiving more attention than ever. Ben Houchen (Conservative), the first Tees Valley Metro Mayor, is seeking re-election after his surprise (and narrow) defeat of the Labour favourite four years ago. If Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs were to win in this 2021 election, she would be the first female Metro Mayor in the UK.
Traditionally, Teesside is known for being a Labour stronghold, but the fall of the Red Wall in the 2019 General Elections has strengthened Ben Houchen’s popularity in the region. With the Chancellor’s support, Houchen has delivered several notable wins for the area, including Teesside’s status as a Freeport, and the related boost of thousands of new jobs. Darlington also won the promise of 750 new Treasury jobs as part of the government’s levelling up agenda. Labour will certainly be fighting for the area, as alongside the mayoral election, the first Westminster by-election under Sir Keir’s leadership of the Labour party is due to happen in the Labour stronghold of Hartlepool. Seen by many as a test of Sir Keir’s popularity, early indicators show that the national parties will be gauging their own strength in Teesside.
A coronation for the King in the North?
Thomas Parfitt on Greater Manchester’s race for Metro Mayor
A huge upset would have to occur for Labour candidate and incumbent Metro Mayor Andy Burnham to lose Greater Manchester’s 2021 mayoral election. Over the past four years he has expanded the influence and reputation of the role, as well as bolstered his own personal brand and popularity. During the pandemic he became Northern England’s strongest political advocate and a vocal opponent of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 restrictions – garnering the title ‘the King in the North’.
Burnham’s bid for re-election is a vision of Greater Manchester as the UK’s leading digital and green city region. He’s also made much of his reforms to transport, taking the bus network into public ownership and laying plans for a clean air zone. His main opponent, the Conservative Laura Evans, is petitioning to stop the zone, and has focused her campaign on law and order. She is promising to up policing budgets and has been heavily critical of Burnham’s oversight of Greater Manchester’s police force, which has been put into special measures. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely Evans can reverse the poor fortunes of the Conservatives in the Manchester region, nor compete with the national profile and influence of Burnham.
Will late political controversies cause upset?
Roxy Blake on the Liverpool City Region’s election race
Incumbent Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram (Labour) enters the Liverpool City Region’s election race on the front foot. He has a comfortable majority, and his public image has benefitted from his response to the government’s handling of Covid-19 in the region.
Yet, competing visions to recover stronger, greener and fairer from the pandemic come from Jade Marsden (Conservative), Gary Cargill (Green) and Andy Corkhill (Liberal Democrat). Despite compelling arguments on levelling up, housing and environment from each, Rotheram’s broad vision for revival leaves few gaps to fill with alternatives.
From a green industrial revolution and Transport for London-style transport plan, to his Young Person’s guarantee and £150 million Covid-19 recovery fund, Rotheram’s levelling up ambitions for the region have gained positive coverage. The controversies that have recently hit Labour’s city council group are a late bump in the road for Rotheram and it remains to be seen what impact this will have on his own chances.
Will Labour secure first place in West Yorkshire?
Ali Parker on the region’s first Combined Authority race for Metro Mayor
This is West Yorkshire’s first mayoral election and much of the focus has been on what the Metro Mayor will bring and what wider devolution could do for the region. The advantages of a ‘face’ for West Yorkshire nationally and internationally have been highlighted, but there’s some concern about whether the scope of powers being transferred to the new Mayor will make a real difference day-to-day.
Labour’s high-profile candidate, the current MP for Batley and Spen, Tracy Brabin, has put jobs and the green economy at the centre of her pitch and is widely expected to win. This has only been reinforced by the Conservatives’ decision to wait until late February to name Leeds City councillor Matthew Robinson as its candidate. His key policy priority is bringing Opportunity Areas to the region and working with central government to support local economic recovery.
Will transport bring home the race for James Palmer?
Ellie Hainsworth on Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s race for Metro Mayor
The incumbent, James Palmer (Conservative), is expected to secure a second term as Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s Metro Mayor. He is running on a commitment to continue his ambitious plans for an improved public transport system to connect business parks around Cambridge to the surrounding county. Those plans, however, have not been without difficulties. The increasingly controversial expense of the Cambridge Autonomous Metro project and the withdrawal of government funding for his flagship £100k affordable home scheme have given his opponents political capital to try to take advantage of.
Both competing candidates, Aidan Van de Weyer (Liberal Democrat) and Dr Nik Johnson (Labour), are focusing on the Metro scheme’s difficulties, aiming to bring the Mayor’s scheme to a halt and assess a new means of solving the region’s transport issues.
Will business, green or social issues cut through to votes in the West Midlands?
Giles Venn on whether Andy Street can narrowly win as the West Midlands Metro Mayor once again
The inaugural West Midlands Combined Authority election four years ago was decided by fewer than 4,000 votes, and all the signs are that this year’s contest will be similarly close. Current Conservative incumbent Mayor Andy Street – the former managing director of John Lewis – is currently neck and neck in the polls with Labour candidate Liam Byrne, the longstanding MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill.
Street’s campaign is inevitably focused on his strong links to business and industry, with the creation of a new gigafactory in Coventry for the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries a central part of his re-election manifesto. Byrne similarly has green issues among his key election pledges, stating he will make the West Midlands the UK's first net-zero carbon region and a “world capital” of green manufacturing.
Social issues are also set to feature prominently in the run up to 6 May, with Byrne challenging Street’s record on homelessness and both candidates seeking to address rising youth unemployment and child poverty across the region.
South of England
All to play for in the West of England
Michael Philps covers the race for Metro Mayor in the West of England
There’s a feeling among the candidates for the West of England’s Metro Mayor that, to unlock more opportunities, the region must punch above its weight and more effectively compete with other regions and higher profile political personalities (especially those in London and the North).
Combine that with the fact that the position is all to play for, following the decision of the incumbent Tim Bowles (Conservative) to stand down after one term, and it may explain why the race has attracted some well-known names. Labour and the Lib Dems have chosen former MPs as candidates in Dan Norris and Stephen Williams respectively. Samuel Williams (Conservative) and Jerome Thomas (Greens) are both Bristol-based businessmen who have been involved in the city’s local politics.
The most prominent debate has been around the need for strong regional leadership to help ensure a comprehensive recovery from Covid and attract investment. There’s a specific focus on improving transport provision locally too, which is seen by all candidates as a key opportunity to help decarbonise the region.
There have been difficult questions for the Conservative candidate, after the region was overlooked for regeneration investment in the Spring Budget and the rejection of the Great Western Freeport bid.
As ‘kill the bill’ protests have swept Bristol, candidates are having to work hard to regain media attention and land their key campaign messages.
Will Sadiq succeed with a second term for the capital?
Ben Lewis on the race for London’s Mayor
It’s been some time since any debate in London’s mayoral race focused on who the winner will be. All the polling, press coverage, and sentiment throughout London suggests Labour’s incumbent, Sadiq Khan, will romp home to a second term (with some speculation he may even become the first London Mayor to be crowned victor after the first round of votes). Khan has continued to build his personal brand and his narrative of ‘talking up’ the capital has landed with Londoners.
The campaign of his top rival, Conservative Shaun Bailey, is seemingly in significant trouble. Media reports claim Conservative Campaign Headquarters has cut funding, washed its hands of the campaign and accepted defeat as Bailey’s promises to tackle rising crime, Transport for London funding issues, and address affordable home shortages appear to have failed to hit home with voters.
Coalition on the cards in Wales?
Luke Aldridge looks at the likely outcome for Senedd Cymru
The Welsh Parliament election looks set to be the closest race in the 22-year history of devolution, with early polls suggesting Labour could be on for its worst ever result. A potential coalition with Plaid Cymru might beckon.
Jobs, transport and education reform are the priorities for the main parties, with Labour aiming to appeal to the newly enfranchised 16-year-olds with promises of new apprenticeships and jobs for the under-25s. The Conservatives are looking to benefit from the Welsh government’s contentious decision not to press ahead with the M4 relief road, by promising to build it and upgrade key routes in the north and west, along with a significant housebuilding push. Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, is looking to appeal to the young with promises of a real living wage for 16-24 year olds, and 2,000 more teachers.
While Labour’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic won them plenty of plaudits, it doesn’t seem to have translated into votes. Instead, the deviation from Westminster’s approach has led to a rise in support for further devolution and more power for the Welsh government, possibly to the benefit of Plaid Cymru.