In less than a year from now, voters in the West Midlands will go to the polls to elect their metro mayor. For the past two years, we’ve had scandal after scandal under Tory incumbent Andy Street – consultants earning £600 a day, members of staff faking consultation responses, and a chief of staff paid more than the mayor himself. Meanwhile, as devastating Tory austerity has rolled on, Street has refused to stand up to his friends in central government to demand a better deal for working people in the region.
The West Midlands has a lot to be optimistic about, such as the Commonwealth Games, which are coming to Birmingham in 2022. But too often, tired Tory politics have held our region back. We need radical change, not just nice words – and Labour members understand this. That’s why I’m standing to be the party’s nominee for mayor.
I joined the Labour Party during the miners’ strike when I was 15. I saw first-hand the damage the Thatcher government did to our communities, with job losses, cuts to services and the hateful Section 28 – and became a socialist. Since then, I have campaigned at every local, general and European election, and have served our party and movement at local, regional and national levels.
In 1989 I became a nurse and over the next 10 years worked in a number of hospitals, proudly serving on the frontline of our NHS. In the 1990s I developed my union branch, and we went on to lead one of the longest strikes in NHS history against plans to implement PFI in Dudley. We were successful in helping negotiate the ‘retention of employment model’, which, to this day, protects workers against the threat of PFI. Our dispute shows that solidarity is the key to improving people’s lives. This principle is at the very heart of the labour movement’s collective ethos, and it is the principle that will anchor my candidacy.
We now have the opportunity to build a long-term vision for the West Midlands, and for the sort of society we want to create across the country. I want the West Midlands to be a pioneering region, testing new, radical policies that will clear the path for the next Labour government and demonstrate what we can achieve when we are bold.
My local comrades and I are centring our campaign around the idea that we do more together than we can possibly do alone. That’s why we’ve built an open and inclusive campaign around policy development with a diverse group of local activists, community groups, trade unionists and party members. This way, the policies we want to see in action will be tailored by the very communities they serve.
The manifesto we have developed collaboratively has five key areas of focus:
1. Taking radical action to bolster tenants and residents’ rights, working with organisations such as Acorn to protect residents and deliver a resourced ‘housing first’ initiative to help rough sleepers.
2. Reducing the cost of transport for working families, making sure that we reform fares across the region so that it doesn’t break the bank to get to work.
3. Testing experimental and innovative green policies to drive an environmental revolution across our region.
4. Establishing a People’s Bank to invest in our towns and cities, growing cooperatives and ethical enterprise that will give everyone better opportunities at more than the living wage.
5. Uniting our communities and helping everyone get the support they need when they need it through new community hubs.
But that’s not all – like Jamie Driscoll, the new North of the Tyne Mayor, I will be a campaigning mayor if elected. My first, second and third campaigning priority will be to demand the restoration of all funding lost by councils in the West Midlands since the Tories came to power in 2010.
We must also strengthen trade union representation at a regional level. As leader of Dudley Council, I became vice-chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) in 2016 and worked closely with the TUC to ensure workers were represented at the highest level. We remain the only devolved authority to have trade union representation at board level.
I want to continue these efforts as mayor, boosting worker representation and campaigning to repeal anti-union legislation. At the other end of the spectrum, we must reform the WMCA so that we no longer waste £880,000 on costly consultants. Instead, we can use public funds to create real jobs where people champion their areas of expertise.
Standing for mayor is not just about one person – it’s about the collective approach needed to create a more equal, future-facing region, no longer in the shadow of London and Manchester. I hope you will join us and help build our bold, inclusive campaign.