Steve Rotheram with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Getty
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Power to (half the) people: metro mayors and their teams are 94 per cent male

Talk about a democratic deficit - the six new metro mayors are all male, and their "top teams" are 94 per cent male.

The election of six new metro mayors earlier this month was supposed to give more power to Britain's cities and regions. But one group has ended up losing out - women.

All six of the newly elected mayors are men - Labour's Andy Burnham in Manchester and Steve Rotheram in Liverpool, and the Conservatives' Andy Street in Birmingham, Tim Bowles in the west of England, James Palmer in Cambridgeshire and Ben Houchen in Tees Valley. 

And there's another problem, which is only emerging as the new mayors nominate their cabinets, which are largely drawn from the leaders of local councils. They're often all men too.

Here is the list of Steve Rotheram's "top team", announced on 26 May, and their portfolios. Have a look and tell me what's missing:

Joe Anderson: housing and public sector reform

Asif Hamed:  business and Brexit

Phil Davies: Economic development and culture

Rob Polhill: energy and renewables

Ian Maher: Skills and apprenticeships

Andy Moorhead: Health, adult and social care 

Barrie Grunewald: Planning, environment and air quality

Liam Robinson: Transport

Frank Rogers: interim head of paid service

If you guessed "a woman", collect 50 points, but don't pass Go, instead sit there and be a little bit depressed. For all the talk of handing power back to the people, we have ended up with a male mayor and nine male Cabinet members overseeing the Liverpool metro region of 1.5 million residents. 


Now, this is not all Steve Rotheram's fault. In Liverpool and elsewhere, the constitution of the Combined Authority - the legal structure which gives directly elected mayors their powers - require that portfolios are given to its members. These are the local council leaders and the chair of the Local Enterprise Council. In Liverpool, these are all men. 

As well as these seven dudes, Rotheram has also tapped up local councillor Liam Robinson, and Merseytravel chief executive Frank Rogers. I understand that he wanted to co-opt two women onto the combined authority, but was rebuffed at the meeting where the appointments were made and realised that he didn't have the votes to get what he wanted. "The AGM on Friday was a formal meeting and not really the opportunity to look at comprehensive, radical structural change," Rotheram said in a statement. "That is a process that is ongoing and I remain fully committed to creating a more diverse and representative administration."

He added: "I fully understand that this has led to an unacceptable gender imbalance which, despite the constitutional constraints, I am hoping to address when I announce further appointments to additional portfolio areas in the near future."  

So at least Steve Rotheram acknowledges there is a problem. Unfortunately, a very similar pattern has become apparent in the other metro mayoral areas. 

Peterborough and Cambridgeshire

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Conservative mayor James Palmer has two male deputy mayors - Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich and councillor Robin Howe - and an all-male cabinet, made up of councillors Steven Count, Peter Topping, Lewis Herbert, Charles Roberts and John Clark. (Click here to enjoy a photograph of their glorious diversity - one is wearing a white, rather than blue, shirt.)

West Midlands

In Birmingham, Andy Street had to pick a deputy mayor from among seven council leaders in the West Midlands Combined Authority - and at the time only one of them, Bob Sleigh, is a Conservative. Dudley council is now led by a Conservative - another man, Patrick Harley.

And yes - you guessed it - the five Labour council leaders are all men too: John Clancy of Birmingham City Council; George Duggins of Coventry City Council; Steve Elling, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council; Sean Coughlan, Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council; and Roger Lawrence, Wolverhampton City Council.


In Manchester, Andy Burnham had more flexibility in his appointments for deputy mayors - and ended up with one man and one woman  - Sir Richard Leese and (Baroness) Beverley Hughes. But again, further down the chain he is working with an intensely male-dominated local political scene. Four other cabinet posts have been announced, which have all gone to men: Rishi Shori, leader of Bury Council; mayor of Salford Paul Dennett; leader of Stockport council Alex Ganotis and leader of Rochdale council Richard Farnell.

Overall, the ten-strong Greater Manchester Combined authority has just one woman, Labour's Jean Stretton, leader of Oldham Council.

Again, it's something that Burnham and his team are aware of, but changing the ratio will be difficult. Under the previous interim mayor Tony Lloyd, deputies were appointed to some portfolios, drawn from local councillors, which allowed for more female and ethnic minority representation. 

Burnham's mayoral manifesto committed him to a gender-balanced Combined Authority and said he would "agree a plan with member councils as to the best way of achieving it as quickly as possible". It also stated: "All committees, panels and boards that advise the Mayor will be gender-balanced – such as the business advisory board. Invitations to appear on all-male panels will be refused."

Tees Valley

Of the five constituent councils in Tees Valley's combined authority, four are headed by men: Bill Dixon in Darlington, who oversees transport; Christopher Akers-Belcher in Hartlepool, who has the education portfolio; mayor Dave Budd in Middlesborough, who oversees tourism; and Bob Cook in Stockton, who also becomes deputy mayor and takes responsibility for housing. The sole woman is Redcar and Cleveland's Sue Jeffrey, who was Labour's (losing) candidate for the metro mayoralty, and who takes responsibility for business. The chair of the local enterprise partnership is Paul Booth.

West of England

The West of England combined authority has three members: Bristol and north-east Somerset (council leader Tim Warren); Bristol (where the mayor is Marvin Rees) and South Gloucestershire (where the chair of council is Ian Blair). The press office for the combined authority tells me that the interim chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership will also attend meetings. Is he a fella? You betcha! Come on down, Professor Steve West. A deputy mayor will be announced on 28 June. 

Now, the picture is not uniformly bleak - the West of England press office note that its interim chief executive is a woman, as are the chief executives of two of the three councils. However, there is clearly a specific issue with combined authorities because they are largely made of council leaders. It’s the same issue with, say, Question Time booking or lobby journalists – it’s no one’s fault, per se, but lots of organisations each individually sending a man adds up to an overall dramatic gender bias.

Power to (half the) people

By my reckoning, among the new metro mayors and their "top teams", there are 48 men and three women. That means they are 94 per cent male. 

So what can be done? There are a couple of potential solutions. First, the membership of the Combined Authorities could be broadened and mayors could co-opt members on to them. However, this will require the current members to agree, as there are legal and constitutional implications. "The point of devolution was to give more powers to councils, so it's hard to impose anything on them," one source told me.

Secondly, the parties could look at practical ways of getting more women involved in politics at the local level, and eventually rising to lead more councils. There's no way you could ever have anything equivalent to All Women Shortlists for council leaders - the resistance would be too great - so the change has to come from altering the pipeline. I've only looked at gender balance here, but ethnic minority representation - which is harder to measure - also looks very low. 

Let's hope some of that happens. These statistics are grim if you believe a) that it's important to have politicians who have an affinity with the people they represent; b) homogenous groups make worse decisions; c) it's wasteful to overlook half the potential talent pool. 

Until then, when politicians talk about devolution giving power back to "the people", remember: half of those people are being short-changed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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