As the ‘King of the North’ prepares for his second election battle, surely there can only be one winner?

By Matthew Williams

As lockdown restrictions ease on what will hopefully be our last national lockdown, very few politicians are coming out the other side of the pandemic with their reputation and profile at newfound heights. However, GMCA Mayor Andy Burnham is not your average politician. Following his public outburst over Government funding in October, Andy found himself being labelled the voice that the north of England – and not just Greater Manchester – needs. Yesterday, the former Health Secretary outlined his manifesto ahead of May’s election, but with bookmakers currently giving 1/100 odds on retaining his position, Andy Burnham’s seat is arguably one of the safest in the country.

First and foremost, what makes Andy different to any other politician in and around Manchester is that he has established himself as something of a cult hero. After his public comments against the UK Government in October, ‘feel the Burn’ became a common phrase across the region and murals of the politician appeared across the city. Manchester prides itself on being different, from challenging the norm to standing up for what it believes in. Unlike neighbouring authorities and in true ‘Manc fashion’, Andy showed these values by refusing to go down without a fight.

His outburst reignited his national profile, but since coming to office in 2017, Andy has overseen an enormous change across the city and has been valued by many in the highest regard for quite some time. His efforts to tackle homelessness have been appreciated, and he has overseen the region’s multi-billion-pound property boom.  Arguably Andy’s greatest legacy will be his efforts to push and challenge the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Of course, there have been criticisms along the way. His competitors in May’s election are critical of his handling of the Greater Manchester Police, which was recently exposed for failing to record 80,000 crimes in one year, and others, most noticeably the Liberal Democrats, are quick to point out the lack of affordable homes built across the region during his reign. After two previously unsuccessful Labour leadership bids, many Mancs also fear Andy will one day return to Westminster, a claim he has profusely denied.

Nobody knows for certain if Andy will reignite his Whitehall ambitious, but what we do know, with confidence, is that he is highly likely to retain his seat in May. His stock has never been higher, and with growing support for devolution, he is expected to receive an overwhelming level of backing from Mancunians (which is often easier said than done for a Liverpudlian).