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Metro Mayoral Elections – the importance of getting out the vote

03/03/17
On 4 May 2017 seven combined authorities will be electing Metro Mayors. These elections represent the biggest change to our local political landscape for forty years.

The exact functions of each Combined Authority and Metro Mayor will depend on the content of the Devolution Deal they reached with central Government. However, each directly-elected Metro Mayor will be responsible for setting out a strategy for growing the city region’s economy, and will have powers over issues such as housing, transport and skills.

This week, George Osborne and Michael Bloomberg, the American billionaire and former Mayor of New York, committed to funnelling money to the winners of each election, regardless of party affiliation. The partnership between the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and Bloomberg Philanthropies will also offer the mayors opportunities to access technical assistance, share best practices, strengthen their management skills, as well as explore ways to promote innovation and use data to shape policy.

Unfortunately, the ongoing fallout over Brexit and the triggering of unexpected by-elections has overshadowed the build up to May. I have friends and family in Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham, all of whom will have a vote in May’s elections. It’s discouraging to know that few of them knew about the upcoming elections, let alone what might follow. A recent survey by Centre for Cities found that just two in five adults (39 per cent) in the West Midlands said they were previously familiar with the plans to introduce a new Metro Mayor for their region.

Lack of awareness is often said to be a result of political disengagement. However, recent elections paint a different picture – voter turnout in the EU Referendum reached 72.2%, and voter turnout in today’s Northern Ireland assembly election reached 64.78%, its highest level in almost two decades. This demonstrates that the public can and are interested in engaging in political debate.

It would be a great shame should voter turnout be low in the upcoming mayoral elections. But with two months to go until the election, there remain many opportunities to encourage every eligible citizen to exercise their right to vote. Mainstream media have a role to play in ensuring the public are well informed – in fact The Times’ Matt Chorley has produced plenty of comment and included columns from various Mayoral candidates in recent weeks –  and politicians need to make better use of social media. However, all those that are politically engaged also have a responsibility to inform and encourage their peers to involve themselves in this election process. There need to be more people talking about the prospective candidates in the pub – just as they would at a General Election.

Last June, many of my peers and friends woke up to the news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, and many were devastated. However, for most, their first and only interaction with the campaign had been voting. It would be a great shame to see the same thing happen on 5 May.

So, let’s get talking about what role Metro Mayors can play from May onwards before it’s too late.

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