‘Voters see West Midlands Mayor Andy Street as almost independent rather than Conservative’

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We speak with a senior West Midlands Tory about the forthcoming West Midlands Mayoral election - and local elections in the Black Country

He uses green leaflets instead of traditional Tory blue and doesn’t mention he’s a Conservative on X (formerly Twitter).

These are just two of the pointers that show how West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is seen as ‘almost independent’ by voters as he seeks re-election on May 2.

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Mr Street is standing against Richard Parker for Labour, Sunny Virk for Liberal Democrats, Siobhan Harper-Nunes for the Green Party and Elaine Williams for Reform UK.

Our sister title NationalWorld spoke with senior Tory group leader at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council Patrick Harley about Mr Street’s campaign as he bids to return as West Midlands Mayor for a third term.

He told NationalWorld how voters see Mr Street “as almost independent from any political party … and that goes down well on the doorstep”. 

In a bombshell interview, Mr Harley said the public differentiating between local councillors and the Westminster bubble would help his party get re-elected, he accused Rishi Sunak of not being brave enough to tackle social care and said Boris Johnson showed “weakness” with Partygate and “screwed it up himself”.

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Andy Street seen as ‘almost independent’

Former John Lewis managing director Mr Street almost quit the Conservative Party in October after Rishi Sunak cancelled the northern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester. 

Now, his re-election is seen as critical to keeping Sunak in Downing Street, with reports the plotters could move against the Prime Minister if Mr Street and Ben Houchen in Teesside are unseated as mayors.

West Midlands Tories: mayoral candidate Andy Street, left, and Dudley leader Patrick Harley, right. Credit: Mark Hall/Getty/NationalWorldWest Midlands Tories: mayoral candidate Andy Street, left, and Dudley leader Patrick Harley, right. Credit: Mark Hall/Getty/NationalWorld
West Midlands Tories: mayoral candidate Andy Street, left, and Dudley leader Patrick Harley, right. Credit: Mark Hall/Getty/NationalWorld

Speaking of the campaign in Dudley and the West Midlands, Mr Harley said: “I think locally we always do better than what the national picture is. “We’re active every week from August through to polling day … it has the effect of bringing those Conservatives to perhaps forget the doom and gloom of the Westminster bubble, and actually come out and support hard-working council candidates.”

“The good thing for us is people are differentiating between the Westminster bubble, which isn’t great at the moment for ourselves,” he continued.  “They’re differentiating between their Parliamentarians and local councillors, and our track record here and Mayor Street’s track record. 

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“He’s got his own brand, they like him and see him as almost independent from any political party. Clearly he’s a Conservative candidate, but they view him as almost a non-political political candidate - and that goes down well on the doorstep.” 

When asked about Street’s green leaflets by NationalWorld, Farley responded: “In a small way or major way, Andy Street has delivered. That's why people like him. So whether he has a shade of green on his literature, whether he doesn't bang the drum that he’s a Conservative candidate - he doesn't need to.  How many politicians are known by their name rather than their party labelling? And that's why I think he’ll win a third term.”

He added: “Where we are following Andy is actually leaving the Westminster bubble to the Westminster politicians. Leave them to it. What we're concentrating on like Andy Street, is our record locally. Andy Street’s got a fantastic record to sell to the electorate and they’re buying it in abundance. Equally in Dudley we've got a good record to sell.”

Andy Street doesn't mention on his X page that he's a Conservative. Credit: XAndy Street doesn't mention on his X page that he's a Conservative. Credit: X
Andy Street doesn't mention on his X page that he's a Conservative. Credit: X

Mark Andrews, politics reporter at NationalWorld’s sister site the Express and Star, explained that this helped Street “cut across political divides”. “He gots a lot of criticism from his opponents by using green leaflets, they say he under plays his role as a Conservative and that he positions himself as an independent,” he said.

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“In his own words, he describes himself not as a ‘Conservative Mayor’, but as ‘a mayor who is a Conservative’. I think he will be hopeful that he can differentiate himself from some of the problems the party is having nationally.” 

Rishi Sunak ‘not brave enough’ on social care

Earlier this year, Dudley Council was told it would need to make further cuts to avoid declaring a section 114 order, which effectively means going bankrupt. Harley said he believes there is no longer a risk of bankruptcy, however he said much of the financial issues for local authorities were due to the rising costs of social care.

When asked about its impact on local authority finances, Mr Harley told NationalWorld: “This is where I’ll put my LGA [Local Government Association] hat on and say all governments screw us over. Be they red, blue, yellow or a combination - they screw local authorities over. 

“We are more effective at running things that change people’s lives, have influence over people’s lives. We proved that in the pandemic. We proved we could deliver PPE when the government couldn’t.”

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Boris Johnson makes his 'new deal' speech in Dudley. Credit: GettyBoris Johnson makes his 'new deal' speech in Dudley. Credit: Getty
Boris Johnson makes his 'new deal' speech in Dudley. Credit: Getty

He continued: “We need a brave Prime Minister and a brave Secretary of State for Health to turn round to the health bodies, the hospitals, and say you do have enough money. You need to devolve some of that cash down to local authorities - they can ease your bed blocking.”

When asked by NationalWorld if Sunak and Health Secretary Victoria Atkins are brave enough to tackle social care, he said “no”. “I’ll be quite open about that because they haven't proposed it so far. Blair and Brown didn’t propose it and we've had long serving health ministers like Jeremy Hunt, who didn’t propose it.”

Boris Johnson’s reign ‘was always going to be short lived’

Mr Harley also hit out Boris Johnson for showing too much “weakness” as Prime Minister. When asked about Johnson, he said: “Boris is still very popular in the West Midlands, but it was always going to be short-lived. I think if he'd have shown more discipline and fired a few people for having parties or drinks or misbehaving during the pandemic, then I think he’d still be Prime Minister and probably cruising to another general election win. 

“But he didn't have the discipline to sort out the people who were misbehaving. If you look at what he did, he didn't misbehave. But he was the guy in charge and he didn't reprimand and discipline those that were - that's a weakness.”

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Harley added: “He is responsible for his own downfall because he didn't pay attention to that detail, and when he found out he didn't deal with these people who are responsible for bringing him down. I like Boris, it’s an absolute tragedy he screwed it up himself.”

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