West Midlands Mayoralty: Street Fighting Man

By Pearce Branigan

Having defied the odds in May 2017 to secure the inaugural mayoralty for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), Andy Street can arguably be credited as the first blue fracture in the ‘red wall’ of Labour’s traditional political heartlands across the West Midlands.

Securing the mayoralty by a slim-majority of 3,766 votes, Street now faces a significant task in fending off the determined challenge from Labour’s Liam Byrne, to reclaim its former political hegemony in the region.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities across the UK will be a critical influence on their decision making come 6 May. Street himself is no stranger to the tragic effects of the pandemic, having announced in February 2021 that his mother had sadly passed from the virus. This highly personal hardship is one that many families across the West Midlands have endured over the past year, so Street is perhaps more acutely attune to the frustrations of these communities, in respect of how well they view the Government’s response to, and recovery from the pandemic, as well as the necessity for him to present himself as the region’s champion.

So who is Andy Street and what does he stand for?

Before his election to the mayoralty of the WMCA, Street served as Managing Director of John Lewis Partnership from 2007 to 2016 and as Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership from 2011 to 2016. He has also been the lead non-executive director for the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as a member of then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group.

He has positioned himself as a vocal advocate for the region’s interests, being unafraid to take an independent line, frequently at odds with the Conservative Government’s rhetoric, to deliver and defend the West Midlands economic, commercial and social interests.

From the outset of his re-election campaign, Street promised to build an economic powerhouse by making it the fastest growing region in the UK by 2020. He has latched on to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda for rebalancing regional investment in the West Midlands, championing the completion of HS2 as a critical component in achieving this, as well as improving the regions connectivity, by upgrading tramways, branch lines and bus services. Commenting on the long-awaited investment in the regions transport, Street argued that “it is indisputable that in the past we have spent far too much on transport projects in the south compared to the West Midlands. The ratio is seven to one. That isn’t right.”