West Midlands establishment leads Labour to mayoral defeat

By Daniel W. Round, Stourbridge Labour Party

On Friday 5 May, it was announced that Labour’s Siôn Simon MEP had narrowly lost the West Midlands mayoral race to Andy Street, the Tory former boss of John Lewis, by 0.8% in the second round. The result came after a set of disappointing local results for the Labour Party across the country, and there is of course no doubt that factors external to the West Midlands were at play. Those of us who knocked on doors are perfectly aware of this. Also, with a quarter of the region’s MPs being Tories and many other seats being marginal, it would be unfair to suggest that the West Midlands is as much of a ‘Labour heartland’ as Merseyside or Manchester, where Labour won mayoral races with handsome first round victories. It is, however, a race that the party very much should have won, and defeat was perfectly avoidable.

Despite this, in his concession speech and post-result interviews, Simon essentially shifted the blame onto the leadership without any gracious acknowledgment of his own failings as a candidate – of which there were many, and had been highlighted by activists throughout the campaign. For those who have followed Siôn Simon’s career, a lack of grace comes as no surprise, but after such a dreadful campaign his comments infuriated many, especially those who, despite having reservations about the candidate and the direction of his campaign, had worked hard to get a Labour mayor with Labour policies elected.

What went wrong? Simon’s first impression to many voters was that of complacency, with the Labour candidate missing some crucial early debates. His excuse was apparently that, as an MEP, he still had to divide his time between the UK and Brussels. Fair enough – but he abstained on the big CETA vote in the European Parliament, despite Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Barry Gardiner calling for Labour MEPs to vote against the proposals. This speaks volumes about Simon’s politics.

He also appeared inauthentic. Throughout the campaign, Simon was transparent in his tactic of aping an anti-establishment, riled-up Brexiteer. No one was buying it, certainly not from an MEP and former New Labour junior minister who has been part of the Labour establishment in the West Midlands for years. In this crude and misguided attempt to secure English nationalist votes, Simon spoke out against the Barnett formula, which remains official Labour Party policy. He had to be challenged by frustrated Labour activists before he properly reoriented his attacks on unfair funding away from Scotland and onto Tory austerity measures!

His team got things wrong strategically, too heavily focusing on Birmingham at the expense of other areas. This meant that, while he cleaned up in the big city, he lost in Dudley and didn’t win big enough in areas like Wolverhampton, areas that would have secured him the mayoralty had he got the vote out. There was also a serious lack of coordination from his team, leaving many CLPs left feeling entirely disconnected from the campaign and perhaps contributing to the struggle to effectively get out the Labour message and vote.

It is worth noting that Simon elicited help from some of the most strategically challenged figures in the West Midlands Labour Right establishment, such as Liam “no money left” Byrne MP. Other figures from this very same cliquey establishment, centred on Birmingham, recently decided to bar Labour members with nearly two years of continuous membership from selecting council candidates in the city. The culture of West Midlands Labour politics needs a complete overhaul.

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