Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, has in the last couple of days dramatically ruled himself out of the running to be the first mayor of Greater Manchester. The news comes after months of speculation about who the candidates for the job will be, and Leese was viewed as a potential frontrunner. But, in a dramatic statement withdrawing himself from the race, Leese was openly critical about the current field of candidates.
Some big names have already put themselves forward for the election in May 2017. Seven days ago Ivan Lewis, the long serving Labour MP for Bury South, confirmed his intention to stand. The week before, current interim-Mayor, Tony Lloyd, declared his intention. Lloyd, Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner, also spent nearly thirty years on the green benches.
Leese did not hold back when reviewing the abilities and potential of the candidates; he said the GMCA needed “to have a Mayor who can bring freshness and originality to the post without being tied down by the past”. On Ivan Lewis’ declaration, he said “I would take some convincing that 20 years in Parliament is adequate preparation for this position.” He also took aim at Lloyd saying the elder statesman “lacks the vision, drive and leadership to fulfil the role”.
Leese is right; this is not another retirement job for parliamentarians, or a stepping stone to ‘greater things’. The mayor of Greater Manchester will control sweeping powers, massive budgets and requires a new generation of leadership; not spent political figures. For devolution to work, combined authorities need a style of leadership that does not suit the experience of long-time parliamentarians. Diplomacy will be crucial and to a large extent, partisan politics will have to be abandoned.
What is required of an executive mayor is presence, personality and instincts combined with a radical reforming drive that makes the most of new powers. The new metro mayors are about a different kind of leadership and a new generation of politician. In Leese’s own words: “… my ideal candidate would probably be twenty years younger and a different gender.”
If the devolution agenda is to be a success, so much hinges on the effectiveness and abilities of the new metro-mayors. Without the right candidates, the potential of devolution will never be realised.