ANDY Street’s mayoral victory
in Britain’s second largest
metropolitan area may give the
best indication yet of just how far
Prime Minister Theresa May’s
Conservatives are poaching
traditional Labour supporters
ahead of the June 8 national vote.
Street quit his $1-million-ayear
job as managing director
of department store chain John
Lewis to stand for the top political
job in the West Midlands region
of central England, which has a
population of about 3 million.
His victory this month was
a surprise because the seven
cities and boroughs, including
Birmingham, Coventry and
Wolverhampton, that make up
the West Midlands Combined
Authority are a traditional
stronghold of the opposition
Labour Party.
“We needed a vast swing,”
Street, 53, told Reuters in rented
office space as he fielded calls on
the transport chaos caused by
the discovery of a 550 lb (250 kg)
World War II bomb dropped by
the Luftwaffe on the city over 70
years ago.
“We must have converted
some people who’d previously
voted Labour or stayed at home,
to vote for me,” said Street, who
will earn 79,000 pounds a year as
mayor.
At the last national election
in 2015 Labour won 21 of the
28 parliamentary seats in the
area, while an election last year
for a regional Police and Crime
Commissioner saw the Labour
candidate win with 63 percent of
the vote.
Street won by 3,766 votes out
of 473,490 cast, after offering a
moderate, inclusive, brand of
Conservatism, based around
economic success and social
justice that echoes PM May’s
“economy that works for
everyone” rhetoric.
His success echoes opinion poll
surveys which suggest May’s
strategy to win over workingclass
voters and ethnic minority
groups could hand her a big
victory in the June 8 election.
“We were active in the most
integrated areas, the least
integrated areas, the less affluent,
the most affluent,” Street said.
In his victory speech, Street
hailed the “rebirth of a new
urban Conservative agenda”,
echoing Joseph Chamberlain, a
19th century businessman who
made fortune producing screws
before turning to politics as a
radical mayor of Birmingham.
“His philosophy was very
much about using business
success in order to improve
public services, and, to
use his words not mine,
‘improve the lot of the
masses,’” Street said.
While election rhetoric
may give only a vague
insight into future plans,
May has been clear that
she views last year’s
referendum vote to leave
the European Union as a
“revolution” that exposed
the failings of modern
Britain.
Of his own campaign,
Street said: “We went out
of our way to demonstrate
that the economic success
had to be balanced by
that much more inclusive
society.”
But local factors also played
a role, he said, including his
appeal as a business leader who
went from the shop floor to the boardroom and oversaw one of
the most successful periods in
employee-owned John Lewis’
history.


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