Our Andy, making a difference?

Metro Mayor, the layer of government we could do without.

The Metro Mayor has a plan to spend your moneyThe Metro Mayor has a plan to spend your moneyYour chance to make a difference, or is it? Here come the delayed local elections and we look at the contest for the Metro Mayor(MM) for the West Midlands. The story goes back to the Labour government of Tony Blair. For it was they who began the process and legislation for directly elected mayors. However, the idea was not popular and of the regions offered this only around a third voted for it. Originally Birmingham voted against the proposal in 2012. But then with just a minor tweek to the original scheme the MM project was passed into law in 2017 without another referendum. It was possible for the government to get away with this as the minor tweek to the proposal made it seem they were paying attention to the public:’ we hear what you say’. Yes, the situation, the detail, had been changed. Well they would say that! But the over-arching principle of an extra layer of government had been rejected by the previous ballot. So the public were ignored and the government went, so to speak, around the back to get this idea done. Is this important? Yes and could be the root of low voter turnout in the MM elections. To put this episode into perspective we should remember that the government had just ‘lost’ the 2016 Brexit referendum. This blog, along with many others, saw that loss as a defining moment for government and knew that future referendums would be severely limited. At the time many thought that Brexit was something to celebrate a huge voter turnout gave a legitimacy to the result. But then not the result the government wanted! In Birmingham many politicians were against the MM idea and said so. It was clear that this was another layer of government to be paid for by the public. There would be nothing more than grandstanding and confusion. If you were to ask one hundred people in Birmingham what the remit of the local council was and how it differed to that of the MM you would be lucky to get a coherent answer from more than a few. The city centre has been given an expensive rebuild that would have appalled Sir Roger Scruton and his idea to ‘build back beautiful’ while the suburbs seem abandoned. Not quite in the same league as Chernobyl but then give it time!

All the way through the push for Metro Mayors the sales pitch has been focused on, ‘democracy’ and ‘devolving power’. The results show no evidence for this. Voter turnout the first election was low and so the whole idea was devalued. The selection of candidates is worth a look. If you google the details of this you will soon find the results of the Labour Party selection. Siôn Simon won it the first time and Liam Byrne is now the candidate for the upcoming election. In both cases the full list of candidates and their votes polled is in the public domain. So what about the Conservatives? Well that’s the interesting bit. As no information seems to be on hand. It really does look like Andy Street was parachuted in to his position both times. Long time party members cannot recall the process of selection only the result and the statements by leading Conservatives in the Midlands who endorsed this shoo-in. So where’s the democratic element in that? It’s classic chumocracy at which the Conservatives excel. Prior to being anointed as the chosen one, Street was running John Lewis (JL). He in fact has only ever had the one job and yet the Conservatives like to portray him as a business expert of the highest order. How can that be? You would have thought the party would seen through this. Even in 2015 JL profits were going down whilst the number of JL stores doubled during the leadership of Mr Street. Where was the sense behind that? However, store closures are now being announced and huge changes to JL are planned but throughout this Street and his backers claim this is nothing to do with him. An oft heard remark is: ’he ran JL at its zenith’. Considering how long such an expansion would take it must be that Street and his fellow managers are responsible for over developing the business and not showing caution. A classic case of going for growth then going broke. This is much like the banks who always assume they are too big to fail.

It’s simply not good enough to pretend all the misfortunes of JL are due to Covid. The retail business was going down long before that but the management went straight for the rocks. There are two ways of looking at this when we think of Street. Some say as a JL lifer he should have know all the fine detail of JL and been able to avoid trouble. While others say that if Street had not been stuck in the comfort zone of JL and had a broader business background things would have been better. But either way Street has a very high opinion of himself. The new head of JL is Sharon White who last year announced the closing of JL stores including the one at Birmingham. This was the store that Street opened to great fanfare in 2015. Then he was keen to take the credit for this and the opening was part of his platform for becoming the MM. Street went public to declare the closure was a ‘mistake’ and going to be a huge loss for Birmingham. He even called a meeting with White to discuss this. The implication here was clear, White does not know what she is doing and needs advice. However, who offers advice to Street? And when you look at his political career, like his retail one, it could do with some. Put simply the Birmingham store wedged in to a corner of the Grand Central railway station was in the wrong place, Street should own up to the mistake. It’s hard to find any of the locals who were regular shoppers there.

Upon being elected Street declared he, ' was the MM for everyone', really? The turnout was low and his winning margin slender, he was very lucky. There was also the spending question. The rules for campaign spending are not the same here as for a general election. It is estimated that Street out-spent all other political parties by a factor of two to one. We have to say estimated as the exact numbers seem hard to find. But then this follows the pattern we have seen before with the selection of Street. Even so Street felt that the spending was -

 "absolutely appropriate" and the 4th of May election was "a new start in democracy" for the region.

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As they say, Street has never knowingly undersold himself! When working for JL Street was happy to talk about the, ‘moral compass’ of the business. Well those were the days, not any more, not in his new job !

Theresa May became the new PM in July 2016 following the Brexit referendum she was a devout Remainer and set about diluting the true meaning of Brexit with a passion. Street, another EU devotee, may have proclaimed he was the MM for all but in reality he was not. In party meetings he likes to point out that he sees, ‘everything from the business perspective’. He’s not so much devoted to business as obsessed by it and has admitted that too. He gave evidence to the, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee. This was the committee for Devolution and Exiting the EU and he was clearly in his element. Street said of his role - ‘to make sure that MPs in Parliament understand the needs of the West Midlands as we leave the European Union’. Looking further into this we see that Street was talking on behalf of his business chums and not the, ‘West Midlands’. For while Theresa May and Street had a low opinion of this referendum and leave the EU malarkey the wider population did not. For in time May was to be replaced as PM because she failed to comprehend that, ‘Leave means Leave’, was the will of the people. Furthermore Street also found time to worry about the loss of jobs in the car industry due to leaving the EU. It was pure Project Fear stuff. But he’s over these worries now and fully signed up to the government’s ‘Green Agenda’ which, if it goes as well as Test and Trace, will be a fiasco.

Will this, ‘go for green’, idea create or destroy jobs? There is no evidence it’s going to work. What’s happened is the grievance industry has diversified into environmentalism. So the same logic, or lack of it applies, the same politics is used too. So a ‘climate emergency’ is declared, the very wording here gives the game away. This is an emotional concept to which its supporters turn and in a frenzy become zealots, zealots? Yes, they are a form of non-violent jihadists! So what do members of the Conservative party think of Street? It falls in to two camps. There are the people who think Street is wonderful they will tell you, ‘he brings people together’. But so does quiz night at the local pub, or it did until Covid! This is so superficial, so touchy-feely. However, closer inspection shows these people are very often part of the great chumocracy which gave Street the clear run to power. You will also hear that he is, ‘absolutely vital’. But then this may refer not so much to his politics but the amount of money that brought him to power. Many are wary of the effect he is having on the party. They are concerned about the points raised above, and thus his lack of legitimacy. They worry about his reach. From the start of his reign he has always been portrayed as, ‘a force for good’. There has not been much of a debate about him in the party. In fact it is so strongly discouraged that it irks activists.

So how does Street present himself? This is where it all goes wrong and where his total lack of political sensitivity and absurd self portrayal can be seen. Reading his political literature and general writing he is some kind of messiah. His tone is way too bumptious and this makes him seem comical. He uses a dopey form of management-speak unsuited to politics. A sort of techno-babble that makes him sound like a Dalek that has spent a life time in retail but now wants to, ‘make a difference’. One of his specialisms is portraying himself as a, ‘Brummie lad’. Oh how sweet? No, really stupid, born in Banbury he came to Solihull as a child. Thus his attempts at ‘levelling down’ are truly absurd and pointless. Perhaps even insulting to those who live in Solihull! The term Brummie and Brum are only used by people who wish to sound, ‘relevant’, ,think of celebs and media people. However, these people are too distant to understand that those words are seldom heard in Birmingham. While not an insult it is a patronising and crass description of the locals, hence they avoid it. More worrying is the constant muddle of phrases and concepts like, ‘invest’ and ‘public spending’. Some say this trick all began with Tony Blair so who in their right mind would want to copy that? Blair may have used this trick as a form of deceit and the difference is considerable, investors have a choice but public investment comes from taxation and there is no choice. Much as it is said you can judge a man by his suit so can you judge by what he says.

Conservative party insiders report Street has no wish to become an MP. They say he wants to use his executive skills to help the Midlands then move to the House of Lords. So what would his title be? First we note that as a devout Remainer he would have been forever crediting the EU with giving the UK money. This was a common trick of Remainers, but failing to point out that the UK was at the same time giving the EU money. Street now pulls the same trick with the Midlands. He goes to London and comes back with another tranche of public money which he would have you believe fell off the magic money tree. It was Jeremy Corbyn who had a poor grasp of economics and other things such that journalist Rod Liddle called him ‘Magic Grandpa’. But Street is the same, perhaps we should call him, ‘Magic Mayor’? . He would have you believe that this money has arrived in the Midlands by magic. It was not collected by taxation. It’s not an investment but public spending and those in the Midlands who pay tax might object to being encouraged to doff their cap upon seeing this money being spent the way it is. So Street is not so much bringing home the bacon but the carrier of a ’bung’. A handout from government in the old fashioned tried and tested way governments manipulate the population. Nothing more. Thus if he goes to the House of Lords he should be called, Lord Bung of the Midlands!

So what does Street see as his achievements so far? He would list three, HS2, the Commonwealth Games and Coventry City of Culture. Although his critics would list a fourth, leaving JL before he was sacked! The UK City of Culture idea goes back to 2008 when Liverpool held the title and for 2021 it’s Coventry. The status lasts for one year and is one of those civic pride things that a certain strata of public life adores. Is it worth the bother? There is a Wikipedia page devoted to the subject and as for the opinions, well it’s a mixed bag. The point here is Street seems to claim it was his idea. Is that really the case? If so were the elected representatives of Coventry not up to that task, it’s hard to imagine this to be so as so many cities have done just that before Street came along; how did Liverpool and all those other cities manage!

It’s the same with the Commonwealth Games, for mid-summer 2022 in Birmingham. Another gift from our Andy, so he claims, but this one only lasts for 11 days. Even so the upheaval is ignored and it’s the legacy that we are told to concentrate on. It’s a giveaway to hear the legacy concept brought into play. This is what the civic and political classes fret about, it’s what Tony Blair worries about to this day. So in other words it’s another vanity project. This event also has its own Wikipedia page and again it’s a mixed bag. To understand this event we should look to all large scale games and their legacies. This would include Winter and Summer Olympic events, Student games, in fact anything that has ‘Games’ in its title. There are some cities who paid too much for this ‘honour and privilege’ and rue the day they signed up to it.

But it’s HS2 that collects the prize here. This is a vanity project on stilts. It has no business case but Street the business guru is head-over-heels in love with it. If you think the gross over expansion of JL was a mistake then HS2 will make you weep. The project has never caught the public imagination so it’s only Street and Lord ‘loopy’ Adonis who support it. Street even claims to, ‘ have saved it’, from being cancelled. If it had a business case then Street and his clever business friends could have started a company sold shares in it and collected the profits. But no, it’s heaped upon the shoulders of the tax-payer. The costs are out of control and it is nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme

It was another politician from Birmingham, or Brummie lad if you prefer, Enoch Powell, who said that: ‘all political careers end in failure’. All things considered Street should enjoy himself while he can. So what to do? Well we have of late been told to, ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’. When it comes to voting for the MM we suggest that’s what you do, stay home.