Labour candidate for West Midlands mayor bullish in face of worrying polls

With two days to go before the England’s local elections, Liam Byrne’s pedometer showed he had already walked 29 miles this week, more than a marathon’s worth of door knocking and walkabouts as Labour desperately tries to gain ground in the West Midlands mayoral race.

Recent polls have not been promising for the party, showing the Conservative incumbent, Andy Street, between seven and nine points ahead in first-preference votes – in 2017, Street scraped the win by barely 4,000 second-preference votes.

But Byrne is bullishly optimistic, insisting his data and experience on the doorstep across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton show the race will be tight, e Lavoro duro e faticoso is pulling back more voters.

“There is now a clear trend of people switching back to Labour. It’s not a tidal wave yet, but it’s big enough to be a clear trend,” he said as he campaigned in his constituency of Hodge Hill on Tuesday. “In Northfield, ad esempio, di 13% of the contacts we make are people switching back to Labour from Tory.”

Pressure on Byrne is ramping up, with the election being proclaimed as a barometer of Britain’s political mood and a key indicator of whether Labour can win back the seats it lost in the 2019 elezioni generali, con one party source suggesting “if Labour can’t win in the West Midlands it means Labour can’t govern nationally”.

There is concern the pandemic and general political apathy mean turnout will be low, though Byrne attributes it to Street’s relatively low profile in comparison with other metro mayors. “Very few people know who Andy Street is so people haven’t got a good sense of what a mayor can do. It’s a very different situation to Greater Manchester, dove everyone knows who Andy Burnham is,” Byrne said.

For many voters the issue runs much deeper. In nearby Ward End, the 24-year-old Saad Zaman said he likely wouldn’t be voting in the election on Thursday, despite his family having voted Labour for generations.

“I would vote if I thought something was going to change. But nothing ever changes. There is crime and litter everywhere. Kids are killing each other,” he said as he worked in his family’s convenience store. “They say vote for us, vote for us. But nothing gets done. It seems like they just do it for fame.”

Byrne said one of the main issues coming up on the doorstep is knife crime and a lack of police resources to deal with it, and although the mayor does not have much sway in this area, he would use mayoral resources to get youth workers back into communities.

“People can see there are shiny towers going up in city centres, but people just feel that things are going from bad to worse in their local neighbourhoods," Egli ha detto.

Street claims to have helped bring in more than £3bn of government funding to the region since he took office, as well as creating 97,000 jobs before the pandemic and bringing HS2 and the Commonwealth Games. But some think he has fallen short in other areas, particularly public transport, where extra investment has yet to result in better services.

"[Andy Street] has done a reasonable job, but he could have done a lot better. I use local transport a lot, and it hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten a lot worse,” said Wilf Smith, 72, from Wolverhampton. tuttavia, he said he was unconvinced by the other contenders, adding that he was not sure what Byrne stood for.

Smith said he sees the local mayoral vote as completely separate to national politics, but Byrne is banking on recent scandals in the Tory party cutting through on Thursday, and said the polls were conducted too early to take this into account. “People always thought [Boris Johnson] was a clown. Now they think it’s not a joke," Egli ha detto. “But whether they will then hold their nose and vote Tory, we’ll see.”

The government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic could also have an impact. “I normally do vote Conservative, but I don’t know whether I will this time. Non ne sono sicuro,” said Pat Phillips, 64, as she shopped with her daughter in Birmingham’s Bullring. “I think [Andy Street] is quite committed. He seems a decent guy, but I’m not sure about Boris any more. I think the Covid vaccination has been good, but I think leading up to that wasn’t so good.”

Street has faced accusations that he has tried to distance himself from the Conservative party throughout his campaign – using green instead of blue on his election materials and rarely using the party logo – but insists he is a “proud Tory” and happily cycled with the prime minister around Stourbridge on Wednesday for some last-minute door knocking.

But Johnson put him in an awkward spot last week after allegedly describing his Downing Street apartment as a “John Lewis nightmare”, forcing Street, a former managing director of the department store, to concede “you can’t please all people” and that it was a “personal decision”.

“It’s going to be very close,” said Johnson on Wednesday, adding that he thinks Street has “a fantastic agenda to take the West Midlands forward”.

Asked what it would mean for Labour if the polls prove right and the Conservatori are set for sweeping victory in the region, Byrne was defiant. "Per me, it’s not an issue because we’re going to win," Egli ha detto.

“We’ve helped people see our core identity as the community party, and we are focused on that and just talking to people every day. That is a huge source of energy and inspiration for us.”

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