Will huge Tory success in the Mayoral and County Council elections make boundary cooperation easier and quicker than ever?
The electoral map of the East of England changed dramatically on the 5th of May. For the first time in many years, it is possible to go from Stevenage to Lowestoft and not set foot in a non Conservative controlled county. To hammer the point home, the first directly elected mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Cllr James Palmer, was elected with the overwhelming support of everywhere that isn’t Cambridge.
When Boris Johnson was first elected mayor of London, he was described as being the most powerful Conservative in the country. Following this year’s county council elections, James Palmer is undoubtedly the most powerful Conservative in the east.
Working with Strutt and Parker, we hosted one of the last hustings before the election. Hearing Cllr James Palmer speak, it was clear that he is a passionate advocate for the region and believes that radical thinking is needed to make the East-West route as advanced as North-South. Will Mayor Palmer, with his gravitas as Mayor of Cambridgeshire together with his passion and radicalism, be able to work with his Conservative colleagues across the region to effect joined transport strategy?
The new combined authority in Cambridgeshire is but a small part of the Cameron ministry’s vision of a devolved East Anglia. Originally Norfolk and Suffolk were to be part of much larger combined authority that owed as much to King Rædwald (first King of the Eastern Angles) as it did to George Osborne. Like a teenager resisting sitting at the kid’s table, Cambridge refused to be a part of any deal that included the achingly uncool Norfolk or Suffolk.
This lead to the deal being divided, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough on one side, and Norfolk and Suffolk on the other. The death knell of the Norfolk/Suffolk deal was sounded last November when Norfolk refused to play nicely with her southern neighbours; maybe as revenge for the Tractor Boys’ 1946 5-0 win over the Canaries?
With the withdrawal of a Norfolk/Suffolk deal, and a rejection of a combined authority in Essex, there is a pressing question about how much needed transport improvements can be enacted. In adversity there is opportunity, from Cambourne to Chelmer, from Harlow to Hunstanton the Conservative Party is dominant at county level. James Palmer has a unique opportunity, an opportunity to act as a primus inter pares for the regions of the east and to bring unified action.
The new mayor has the chance to act as a driving force for the region, as a powerful advocate and conduit with central government. Transport in the East of England is in dire need of improvement. Projects have already been proposed from the dualling of the A47 to the aspirational East-West rail route. But they need a strong voice to tease open the purse of government. Collaboration will make that voice louder, and more persistent.
Snapdragon Director Ben Lee, with Cllrs Kevin Price, Rod Cantrill, and newly elected Mayor James Palmer