GM Mayoral election: Do we really do things differently here?

By Simon Donohue

I firmly believe in democracy but I’m no fan of politics. Or rather, I’ve always worried that politics tends to be in the interests of the person rather than the people.

They tell us what they would do if elected, we take a punt based on the likelihood of any of it happening, they don’t deliver, change their minds, the world changes, we go through the whole thing again.

Which brings me to the mayoral election that we already voted against in 2012. Democracy in action once again.

Passionate as I am about Greater Manchester, I’m certain that the mayoral election on May 4 will lead to real change. Former Chancellor George Osborne saw to it that a lot of power is shifting from Westminster. It’s stuff that matters and whoever becomes the first mayor of Greater Manchester will have a LOT of power.

In fact, these will be unprecedented powers for a regional politician, with a mandate that includes housing, health, transport, education, policing and fire services. Quite what that leaves for Westminster politicians is frankly bewildering.

Partly because this feels like history being made – and I’d like to be part of it – I attended the hustings hosted by my former employer, the Manchester Evening News,

All the candidates have laid out their manifestos and yet there’s still something very powerful about hearing from them in the flesh.

They were all passionate in their own way and actually agreed on so many things that it was hard to decide between much of what was said. That’s partly a result of the powers being handed over and the limitations around what anyone could do with them.

What struck me most is that for all the talk of Manchester being progressive pioneers and doing things differently, we’re really not. Ignore party politics for a second and it’s clear to me that we’re heading towards a low turnout landslide for Andy Burnham.

He was more polished, more practised, more persuasive and more political, using Conservative austerity measures as a stick to beat Tory candidate Sean Anstee with.

Green candidate Will Patterson had impressive things to say but didn’t leave me with any lasting memories apart from his vision for police, ambulance and fire services to more closely share resources. It makes some sense but will float like a lead balloon among the emergency services.

UKIP’s Shneur Odz baffled me a bit with his view that Manchester is different to London and shouldn’t really expect so sophisticated a transport system. I’d say it absolutely should and is likely to be the big success of the mayoralty.

Lib Dem Julie Brophy thought a lot of answers lay in decriminalising soft drugs and standing in the way of constructing new houses on greenbelt – the former point a bit baffling as a ‘cure all’ for Greater Manchester’s ills, the latter an admirable stance. She’s also opposed to Brexit.

Sean Anstee, undoubtedly an impressive local politician, seemed a little lost at times, apparently unaware that this role is about the entire region.

And then there was Andy Burnham. It was a little like the headmaster joining the sixth form debating society. His answers were slick, rehearsed, political and polished. He comes from the North West but he’s a Westminster career politician if ever there was one.

It would of course be stupid to argue against someone who would provide statesmanlike leadership of Greater Manchester, but I can’t help concluding that we’ve ended up with a one horse race when we should have been celebrating an all-comers donkey derby.

Where’s the left-field contender? The star, the human rights activist, the ‘Tony Wilson’ contender? We’ve earned a major shift in politics and responded with an entirely traditional response, bundled once again with the inevitable self-interest at the heart of any politically-motivated candidate. In the end, it always seems to come down to Labour or Conservative, UKIP, Green or Liberal Democrat. Why can’t Greater Manchester have an apolitical mayor – someone who stands for the people? Where was Bez?

Burnham will get the job done, no doubt. But I’m disappointed that this is Manchester and it seems we don’t do things differently any more.

You can find out more about the GM Mayoral elections here