The Labour party has selected its first female candidates to compete for new roles as metropolitan mayors in England.
Sue Jeffrey, the leader of Redcar and Cleveland council, won a ballot of members in Tees Valley on Friday. In the West of England region, Lesley Mansell, a councillor and NHS worker in Bath, won the party nomination.
They hope to be elected on 4 May, the same day as Labour MPs Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram will be standing in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool city region respectively. In the West Midlands, Labour MEP Siôn Simon faces a tight race with Andy Street, who quit as managing director of John Lewis in October to run as the Conservative candidate.
Elections were also supposed to take place in May to choose a mayor for the Sheffield city region. That was thrown into doubt before Christmas, when the high court ruled that those who drew up the region had failed to properly consult residents about the inclusion of Chesterfield.
Labour has been criticised for not involving enough women in the devolution agenda, which has seen big city regions receiving extra money and power from the government in return for accepting elected mayors.
Tees Valley is a somewhat artificial construct that includes Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool, Darlington, and Redcar and Cleveland. The combined authority decided to separate itself from the rest of the north-east of England, which rejected its own devolution deal with the government last year.
Jeffrey, who has led the minority Labour administration in Redcar and Cleveland since 2015, beat fellow councillor Chris Barlow, who represents the Billingham North ward. She will come up against Ben Houchen, the leader of the Conservative group on Stockton borough council.
Jeffrey said she was proud to be one of Labour’s first two female candidates. “It’s really important that we have many more women a) in senior positions in the Labour party overall, and b) concerned and involved with generating economic growth,” Jeffrey told the Guardian.
Local government was still very male-dominated, she said, particularly in the area of regeneration and economic growth, with female councillors often looking after health and children’s services and more typically “female” areas. “The portfolio holders within council do tend to be split on fairly traditional gender lines,” she said.
If the mayoral elections follow the pattern of parliamentary elections, Labour should easily win Tees Valley. The region currently has just one Conservative MP, James Wharton, who represents Stockton South. He was appointed minister for the “northern powerhouse” by George Osborne in the last parliament, but switched jobs under Theresa May and is now a junior minister at the Department for International Development.
The West of England only agreed its devolution deal with the government in November, after one of its councils, North Somerset, pulled out. The elected mayor will now represent only Bristol, Bath and North-East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire.
Labour faces a tougher fight in the West of England, which has a diverse political make-up. Though Bristol’s current mayor, Marvin Rees, belongs to Labour, there are several Tory MPs in the region, including Jacob Rees-Mogg in North-East Somerset, Ben Howlett in Bath, and Charlotte Leslie in Bristol North West.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, welcomed Mansell’s nomination. “Lesley is a passionate campaigner for social justice, employment and equal rights, and as a local councillor she understands the issues that matter to people and, most importantly, how to get things done. We are very proud that Lesley has been selected, and I look forward to her putting Labour’s case to the region’s voters in the coming months.”
This article was written by Helen Pidd North of England editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th January 2017 14.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010