Metro Mayors – A sanctuary for frustrated Labour MPs?

Metro Mayors

This week Bury MP and former government minister Ivan Lewis declared his interest in the post of Greater Manchester Metro Mayor, a powerful position that has been established as part of the ‘Devo Manc’ deal. The election for the post will take place in 2017.

If George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse plans go as he hopes, then Metro Mayors will be part of the new governance structure landscape in all core cities, and what Lewis’ declaration reveals is that these are jobs that will be of interest not only to local government leaders, but to national politicians too – particularly Labour MPs who see a long and frustrating period of opposition ahead under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

So who else may be considering throwing their hat in the ring in Manchester? The sitting interim mayor is Police Commissioner Tony Lloyd, a former MP himself. There is little doubt that he will be in the running, whilst many from the business community will hope that the principle architect of the Manchester deal, Sir Richard Leese, will offer his services. Former Parliamentary candidate James Frith is another potential Labour nominee, though it is probably too soon for him; and what about that old acquaintance of Downtown, Terry Christian – never short of an opinion, he would certainly make an interesting Independent candidate. And if we are considering ‘A’ list celebrities, then surely Gary Neville would be a hot favourite if he decided to swap the financial rewarding world of football punditry, England coaching and property development for the blood, sweat and tears of running a city region. An unlikely scenario this one.

In Liverpool, the six leaders are said to be tantalisingly close to a deal with the chancellor, but the idea of an elected mayor has been the sticking point. More accurately, the idea of Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson being elevated to the more strategic role has been the problem for other Merseyside leaders. So, if not Joe, who are the alternatives? Refreshingly, there is a strong line up of female suitors for the role who would all make very credible mayoral nominees. The Police Commissioner for Liverpool city region, another former MP Jane Kennedy; and three existing Mersey MPs, the experienced Louise Ellman; shadow minister Luciana Berger, and Labour moderniser Alison McGovern would surely consider running. There have also been a whole host of individual’s names, from successful businessmen such as Sir Terry Leahy, through to celebrity hairdresser Herbert mentioned as a future Liverpool mayor – but the more likely outcome is that a Labour politician will have the privilege of heading up the Liverpool city region in eighteen months’ time.

Big Labour beasts will also be prominent in the Birmingham contest. MPs Gisela Stuart and Liam Byrne have little opportunity of career progression in a left wing dominated parliamentary group, and the attraction of having genuine power over a region that is bigger than some countries would whet the appetite of any serious politician. Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Andy Street has been mentioned to me more than once as a possible runner, and what about the ubiquitous Ed James, who would certainly be more likely to attract the younger voters support.

Leeds and Yorkshire is home to more victims than most as far as Labour’s recent collective nervous breakdown is concerned. Ed Balls lost his parliamentary seat even before the Corbyn bandwagon was an issue, whilst his very able partner Yvette Cooper lost out on the top party job. Could they see the Leeds metro mayor position as a way back into meaningful public office? Young talent, Leeds MP and former shadow treasury minister Rachael Reeves could be another who is considering her options, whilst on the Tory side, would such a high profile, high powered job tempt Yorkshire’s biggest political brain William Hague back into the fray?

Lancashire is still a bit off the pace as far as the devolution agenda is concerned, but as the leaders lunch with Sir Howard Bernstein hosted by Downtown Lancashire last week demonstrated, there was certainly support for the county to get its act together, form a Combined Authority and begin to punch its weight as far as business leaders in the room were concerned. Among those present LEP chairman Edwin Booth, Marketing Lancashire chief executive Ruth Connor, Enterprise Ventures boss Jonathan Diggines, Lancaster entrepreneur Trevor Hemmings and Lancashire County Council Deputy Leader David Burrow.

One thing is for sure, the creation of powerful city region leaders is about to reinvigorate interest in local government – at least among politicians who see a much more rewarding and influential future running their local regions than in sitting on the backbenchers in Westminster watching Jeremy ask Dave his six ‘people’s questions’ every week.

One job?

Jack Straw

Two more MPs were caught in a sting operation by Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ programme recently, with both allegedly selling their ‘black book’, influence and power to a bogus Chinese company.

That the two men involved, Malcolm Rifkind and Blackburn MP Jack Straw, have both been rather preachy when their peers have been revealed to be undertaking such unsavoury activities in the past makes it difficult to have much sympathy with either Right Honourable Gentleman. But the point that was highlighted to me during the half hour show was that our Members of Parliament are now, and have been for some time, significantly underpaid.

The £67,000 annual salary for what amounts to a job were you are in the public eye and under severe scrutiny for 24/7; base yourself in the not inexpensive city that we call London; be responsible for a small business as you employ staff; sacrifice your family life and weekends; and have to reapply for that job no matter how well you have performed every five years, is a scandal.

I get that in public life there is an acceptance that you don’t necessarily get the rewards that you would get in the private sector. Nevertheless, for local government officials to be paid more than the Prime Minister, as is currently the case, cannot be right.

Nobody has to sign up for the job of MP, of course, and so why should we be concerned?

Firstly, we are slowly but surely attracting two types of people to parliament. Those who are ‘professional politicians’, usually well -heeled and in a comfortable financial position; and those who think that, even with the job description I have outlined above, £67,000 is a decent wage. I predict that after the election in a few weeks’ time, this will get worse.

Secondly, if the MPs salary continues to be depressed as independent pay commission after independent pay commission is ignored, we open ourselves to the prospect of more UK politicians being open to ‘outside interests’, legitimate or otherwise.

The calibre of our MPs is getting worse. That will accelerate unless we begin to remunerate them fairly, and re-establish the respect that MPs once enjoyed.

Of course, that respect needs to be earned, and by and large Westminster can be proud of its record pre the expenses scandal reveal and its reaction and attempt to clean up its act since.

In principle I think Ed Miliband’s proposal that MPs have ‘one job’ in future is probably a good thing – but they should be paid the going rate that job too.

MP’s should be forced to do Work Experience

Work Experience

The more I listen to Westminster politicians talk about business, the more I realise how little they understand or appreciate the challenges entrepreneurs and business owner’s face. In particular, they are clueless about small and medium sized companies, basing much of what they say on business growth and business policy around the issues that impact on the Jaguar Land Rover’s and BAE’s of this world.

The Prime ministers call last week for private sector bosses to give their staff a pay increase because we had experienced seven months of growth following seven years of recession was actually beyond clueless, and he should hang his head in shame in what was clearly blatant electioneering speak.

This week Ed Miliband, no doubt trying to be helpful, suggested that training and apprenticeship budgets should be handed directly to employers. Again that is fine if you have an army of people around you, but for the vast majority of firms the red tape and bureaucracy that surrounds anything to do with ‘public money’ is an absolute nightmare. Far better to let registered providers and colleges manage these funds, and support businesses through the complex and complicated processes. As Downtown Liverpool chairman David Wade-Smith often says the most expensive ‘free’ money is public sector cash!

Part of the reason why our political leaders are failing to engage effectively with us is that an increasing number of them are professional politicians who have never worked outside of the fantasy land that is the Westminster bubble.

You only have to spend a day in the House of Commons to appreciate how easy it is for an MP to get caught up in stuff that, within that environment, seems to be the most important thing on the planet, whilst to the rest of us it is usually hot air and bluster.

Politics has been ‘professionalised’ and I see little chance of that dramatically changing anytime soon. We will therefore need to find a way of helping our MP’s get some real life experience.

I would suggest, as a starter for ten, six weeks work experience programmes that are compulsory for all MPs to participate in. They could help on the shop floor, attend board meetings and spend a day working alongside a business owner. The only other stipulation I would make is that any company they worked with are companies with a turnover of no higher than £10million.

The disconnect between our elected representatives and the community – business and otherwise – is getting wider, and it needs to be addressed.

Pay peanuts and you get…?


12 July 2013 at 11:00

‘You get what you pay for’ is an ancient adage that most of us in business will recognise to be true. It is true of business clubs; it is true of events; and it is true of MP’s.

Without wishing to generalise too much, I would suggest that the current bunch of Parliamentarians that represent us are of a significantly poorer calibre than in previous parliaments. One only has to look at the respective front benches to recognise that all the mainstream parties are short of talent. Indeed how many ministers and shadow ministers can you name?

Those who do have a bit of quality and the ‘X’ factor are in huge demand from within their own political organisations and from the outside world, so if you want Chuka Umunna or Boris Johnson to appear at something for you in 2015 I’d advise you book them now. Come to think of it, Boris isn’t even an MP nowadays, though internationally he is the UK’s most recognisable politician.

Of course this dearth of talent is not simply about what MP’s are paid. It is about the increased pressures on family life and the abject failure of the House of Commons to modernise its procedures. It is about ‘cabals’ and cliques in party associations and constituency parties who stitch selections up for their mates. It is about 24/7 media scrutiny of all that you do as a public figure.

But ultimately salary does matter. Why would a captain of industry, a young entrepreneur or a creative talent give everything up to put themselves forward for a seat in a dragons den where there place is re-advertised every four years however good their individual performance, if the annual remuneration is less than a Premiership footballer earns in a week?

The job of an MP is a tough one, a time consuming one and one that is high on pressure. If we want to attract good people to this important role then we will have to be more generous and mature when it comes to paying them. The recommended 75K has hit the headlines this week. Buried was the radical change to expenses and pension rights that actually leaves MP’s no better off.

We can continue to compare our MP’s to care workers and beat them up every time a salary increase is recommended by an independent body. In that case we have to accept that we will continue to get the MP’s we deserve. In other words, get what we pay for…