According to a recent study by PwC, only 10% of voters in the West Midlands understand devolution…10%

It’s worrying, because this is expected to deliver a low turnout in May’s elections for West Midlands Mayor, which could have all sorts of implications for how the role evolves in the future.

At Snapdragon Midlands, we want to change that. We, as a region, need to buy into the process and deliver a Combined Authority and new Mayor that truly represent the West Midlands.

This is the first in our Snapdragon Spotlight series, which will take a look at the Mayoral candidates you will be voting for, the individuals who will spearhead the next phase of growth for the region.

First up, it’s Labour’s Sion Simon.

The bookies favourite?

On paper, Sion Simon should be the favourite. The West Midlands has traditionally been a sea of red and there is no reason, with a carefully calibrated campaign, that would not be the case this time around.

He does, however, sit in second place in the polls.

Born in Yorkshire but raised in Birmingham, Sion is a textbook career politician. He studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University, he worked for an MP, he dabbled in journalism and he worked in Labour’s HQ running the European desk. Sion’s main rival, Andy Street, has capitalised on this as the antithesis of his business-led campaign.

In 2001, Sion was elected as the Member of Parliament for Erdington in Birmingham, representing the constituency until 2010. So, he knows Birmingham and its people – the challenge is reaching out to communities in Solihull, Wolverhampton and Dudley who, with respect, don’t care that he was a Birmingham MP.

Nevertheless, he did have a successful Parliamentary career. He became Vice-Chair of the Labour Party in 2007, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for further education in 2008 and Secretary of State for Creative Industries in 2009. Now, he’s the MEP for the West Midlands.

It’s an impressive pedigree and experience that could prove vital in tackling one of the region’s greatest challenges: skills.

What’s the plan?

Sion’s campaign is not without criticism. Rightly or wrongly he is using the mantra ‘Take Back Control’ (borrowed from the Brexiteers) to define his bid for leadership. Not from Europe though, from Whitehall.

His campaign centres on taking powers, money and influence from London and ‘returning’ it to the region, which is arguably exactly what the Mayor should be attempting to achieve.

However, by invoking themes like English patriotism and English votes for English laws, the campaign rhetoric has been singled out as divisive.

He does have a plan, but (and he is not alone on this one) it is rather vague.

The Labour man wants to:

  • Ensure growth and prosperity go hand in hand with social justice
  • Take back control of the M6 Toll Road
  • Invest in skills and partnerships
  • Build more affordable housing
  • Bring about a more sustainable, affordable, 24/7 public transport system
  • Be a West Midlands voice in the Brexit negotiations
  • Ensure the West Midlands is heard in Whitehall and that the region’s interests are accounted for.

As with many political campaigns, it offers the headlines – the strategic direction, if you will – and much of what Sion says is not out of keeping with national Labour policy.

The real question is how, and it’s a question we’ve not truly had an answer to…yet. This is a challenge for all the candidates, given the relatively limited budget the Mayor will have to play with, and we look forward to watching the debate unfold.

For more information on Sion Simon’s campaign, visit his website by following this link: www.sion-simon.com