Andy Street is the Conservative candidate for the West Midlands mayoralty, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
Next Thursday, much of the West Midlands goes to the polls – including seven of the unitary councils that make up the new West Midlands Combined Authority. Almost two million voters from across Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton will cast their votes to decide who will become the region’s first “Metro Mayor”. And if an opinion poll published in the Birmingham Post last week is to be believed, the contest is on a knife-edge, quite literally too close to call.
For Jeremy Corbyn’s career politician candidate Sion Simon, it should have been a shoo-in. The man once described as “Alastair Campbell’s shorthand typist”, who got bored with being a MP and then drifted into being a MEP is now bidding to be the mayor. With 21 of the area’s 28 Parliamentary seats returning Labour MPs in 2015, and six of the seven councils in socialist hands, it must all have looked like plain sailing.
But that’s just one of the reasons I was determined to stand up and be counted. Some friends told me I was foolish to contemplate it. After all, having worked 30 years at John Lewis and being its Managing Director for the last nine of them, I had one of the most envied roles in British business. But I was weary of seeing a procession of Labour politicians failing the region that has been my home since I was just a few month’s old. Electing Simon would mean that nothing changes – or, as the saying goes: “same old, same old”. The region deserves better.
So that’s why last summer I decided to seek the Conservative nomination, and take on the Labour establishment – to be the “change” candidate; to try and make a difference, and to attempt to turn around the Labour Party super-tanker of failure. And re-building our Party in urban Britain goes to the heart of my political credo.
Since launching my campaign at the Conservative Party Conference (in Birmingham of course!) last October, we have moved mountains. We have built a campaign the like of which the West Midlands hasn’t seen for decades, and we have brought together the most incredible group of people to be part of it. Personal friends, university friends, business friends – they’ve all played a part. And we have had amazing support, buy-in, encouragement and participation from local councillors, MPs, activists and the Party at all levels, including CCHQ. I simply couldn’t have got within sight of victory without them. But these next six days will now be crucial.
This weekend, we will be pounding the streets of the West Midlands to “get out the vote”. We will be delivering thousands of personalised letters to people who have pledged their support to me and the team, reminding them that actually casting their vote is the thing that matters. Corbyn’s candidate wants people to stay at home – all, of course, but his historic hardcore vote. The trade union phone banks will be working over-time: after all, much of the recent battle for the soul of Unite was fought across this region, and now it will be payback time.
Only this week, Simon refused several times to say that Corbyn should be Prime Minister. He claims not to have bothered feeding anything into his party’s manifesto, yet thinks he can kid voters into believing that he would have influence as Mayor. Contrast his approach with the commitment that the Prime Minister has made – making her very first canvassing session of the general election campaign right here in the West Midlands last weekend.
So during the next six days we can all play a role in making that difference. I know that many ConservativeHome readers will be immersed in their local campaigns. Here in the West Midlands, several of the currently non-Conservative seats will be at the heart of the target seats list. Many of the very constituencies that Theresa May needs to win to help secure a proper working majority on June 8th will be voting next Thursday. And the people who live here like what the Prime Minister is saying.
It’s about leadership; it’s about making a success of Brexit, and it’s about ending that litany of Labour failure. So please, this weekend – and indeed through to next Thursday at 10pm – get on a train, get on a bus, get in your car or just get on a phone. We can make history next Thursday: this is your chance to be part of it!
To be part of my campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org.