Tories must stop ‘posturing’ if they are to win UK election, Andy Street warns


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The Conservatives should eschew “posturing” in favour of delivery to have any chance of holding on to power at the general election, according to one of the party’s most high-profile regional mayors, who is facing his own battle to remain in office next month. 

Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, said his colleagues in Westminster should take lessons from the way he conducted his previous two successful election campaigns and spend less time on anti-green rhetoric.

“It’s about getting stuff done,” he told the Financial Times. “It’s not about philosophy and posturing, it’s about getting delivery on the ground.”

With the Tories a long way behind Labour in the polls, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has come under pressure from the rightwing of his party to dilute green policies, arguing the costs of implementing them will fall on working families already struggling with household budgets.

But Street, the former boss of the John Lewis department store chain, believes this is the wrong approach. “I hope they will also learn that the way we won [the West Midlands] twice in the past . . . is by being moderate, inclusive and of course drawing in all that middle ground vote as well.”

Street’s race to secure a third term in office at the mayoral elections on May 2 is being seen as a litmus test for Conservative fortunes at the forthcoming general election.

Nationally the party faces a sharp voter backlash over the state of public services and the economy, helping Labour to maintain an average 20-point lead in the polls.

Street is outperforming his party’s overall polling and hopes to secure a third term by running on a platform distinct from the Tories at a national level and highlighting his record since first becoming mayor in 2017. One poll last week put Street two points ahead of his Labour rival Richard Parker, while another put him 14 points behind. 

During a tour of the country’s first all-electric bus fleet run by National Express in Coventry, a development funded by a mixture of private and public investment, Street said the national party could learn from his “absolutely consistent” approach to net zero. 

“[We] don’t blink on the fact we are going to pursue this as a region,” he said, adding: “And that might not be appealing to some Conservatives, let’s say.” 

When Street secured re-election in 2021 of the region that has a population of nearly 3mn, he increased his majority over Labour from 1 to 9 percentage points. But national discontent with the Tories makes his message a harder sell than in his two previous campaigns. 

This campaign is also being fought against the backdrop of the in effect bankruptcy of Labour-run Birmingham city council, leading to big cuts in local services for the residents of the region’s biggest and the UK’s second-largest city.

Street sought to distance himself from the crisis, blaming local Labour politicians in a recent article for the FT. But experts in local government have pointed to the wider national picture, with other councils in a similar position after successive Conservative administrations cut central government funding to the bone in the decade to 2020.

In an analysis last week, Peter Kellner, former president of pollsters YouGov, said Street had benefited from “personal appeal” in his 2021 victory. But the Conservatives were also much more nationally popular, so beating Labour this time would constitute “a remarkable achievement”.

One of Street’s main campaign promises is to treble the amount of social housebuilding across the region, a policy more commonly associated with Labour. That pledge was made possible by his insistence that affordable housing funding be incorporated into the region’s latest devolution deal, according to Street. 

“I had to lie down in the road and say: ‘We’re not signing until we get that cash’,” he said, while stressing that central government deserved credit for agreeing to it. 

He said Michael Gove had been the biggest cheerleader of his approach in the Conservative party nationally, adding that the levelling up secretary “understands very well” what is required to develop regional economies.

In recent months Street has twice openly criticised Sunak. First, over the prime minister’s decision to cancel the northern leg of HS2 during the Tory party conference last October. He was later critical of Sunak’s claim that “mob rule” was descending on to British streets as protests erupted over the conflict in Gaza.

Sunak would be “welcome” to join him on the campaign trail but the prime minister had not visited the area so far, Street said while admitting that in the current political climate, the race to secure a third term was “very difficult”. 

Should he lose, he remained optimistic his main message would still resonate at the national level: “What I think the Conservative party will hopefully learn from here is it’s all about delivery.”

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