Liam Byrne has been defeated by Conservative incumbent Andy Street in the West Midlands mayoral contest that the Labour candidate had said was “the signature election in England” this year.
In the first round of counting, Street secured 299,318, a share of 49%, short of the majority required to win on the basis of first preferences alone. Byrne took 244,009 of first preference votes, or 39.7%.
With neither reaching the 50% threshold, counting went to the second round, allowing Street to secure 314,669 votes, a share of 54%. Byrne received 267,626 votes, or 46%. Turnout in the election was 31.2%
In his concession speech, the Labour candidate described the West Midlands mayoral race as “an extraordinary election in extraordinary times”. To Labour, he said that “this is a bitter blow” and that the defeat was his responsibility.
He told those watching this afternoon that “in the weeks ahead, I’ll tell the full and astonishing story of this ground-breaking campaign”, and added that he would be “back to work in the food banks” locally on Monday.
Street was first elected in 2017 as West Midlands mayor, chairing the West Midlands combined authority that covers the Birmingham metropolitan area and Coventry. He won narrowly with 50.4% on the second round.
Byrne declared in a LabourList interview last year that the “unofficial slogan” for his West Midlands campaign was “look, let’s just get shit done” and said the result would show whether Labour was rebuilding the ‘Red Wall’.
He said that “whether we win this or lose this will tell us whether we are on the way to rebuilding the ‘Red Wall’ in England” and predicted it would be “super tight” as “Tory central office know this is a must-win for them”.
A source in Byrne’s campaign told LabourList earlier this week that polling indicating a disastrous result for Labour was “bollocks”. The MP himself told The Guardian: “There is now a clear trend of people switching back to Labour.”
When asked on Sky News about the race last month, Byrne agreed that he should beat Street “easily”, saying: “We’ve found door-knocking has gone really well and our numbers coming back look great. I think we’ll do well.”
Street said: “I don’t think anyone’s going to win comfortably, I think it’s going to be a very, very close race… I’m actually quite surprised that he was confident because the feedback I get is that it’s really, really contested.”
Byrne has been Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill since 2004, during which time he served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and in various other ministerial roles under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
He was selected as Labour’s candidate in February 2020, when he beat UNISON-backed Pete Lowe and Unite-endorsed Salma Yaqoob, both considered to be further left within the party than the Birmingham MP.
Labour’s defeat in the West Midlands forms part of a poor set of results for the party, which has suffered heavy defeats in the parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool and the Tees Valley mayoral race among others.
Labour has been successful in the Doncaster and Liverpool City mayoral elections. Labour’s Steve Rotheram was re-elected in the Liverpool City Region and Andy Burnham retained his role as mayor of Greater Manchester.
The party has lost control of four English councils so far, while the Tories have gained ten. In London, Labour has won four of the seven assembly seats declared. The rest, and the mayoral result, are expected this evening.
Welsh Labour secured 30 seats in the Senedd, outperforming expectations and giving it a working majority. Scottish Labour has so far won two seats in Holyrood, successfully defending the marginal seats Edinburgh Southern and Dumbarton.