Manchester's Labour mayoral candidate needs more than a famous name

Voters still want concrete policies for their city.

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Office workers flooding out of Starbucks, chuggers leaping into the paths of mums with prams and a near-constant construction site which is set to continue tearing up the city centre until autumn - on the face of it, Manchester looks like any other large city.

But the increasingly metropolitan self-styled Northern capital is months away from a vote which could put its future more directly into the hands of the people.

The May 2017 mayoral elections have been touted as a watershed in how local administration works, offering more power to the city that George Osborne had considered the lynchpin of the Northern Powerhouse - an idea since seemingly rejected by Theresa May as prime minister.

And for the Labour party, the placement of a member at the helm of a brave new North would be a coup indeed.

But while commentators are keen to underline the importance of Andy Burnham on the selection sheet which ended on Friday morning - alongside Police and Crime commissioner Tony Lloyd and Labour MP Ivan Lewis - the party’s much-touted influence hasn’t really reached the people on the ground.

In fact, there aren’t many who have heard of anyone other than Burnham - which IT worker Kalman Dean-Richards, 23, believes could work in his favour.

“It would be good to have a mayor that people have the name of, if you want people to engage,” he said - a fact later reiterated by the myriad of blank faces meeting the three names on the city streets.

That said, being well known does not guarantee your votes. Dean-Richards remains sceptical. “I would look for another candidate to vote for than Andy Burnham," he said. "I find him too false, I think he is jumping ship and trying to get himself his own secure position.”

Admitting to being a Corbyn fan, Dean-Richards insisted he wouldn’t let that influence his vote for Manchester mayor. “I don’t think of Corbyn as perfect, although he is the closest that I’ve ever been to someone that near to power who holds the same principles I do," he said. "But I would go for a different party for mayor if I thought they would do a better job for the city.”

Teacher Ian Peek, 35, has similar misgivings about making a choice for Corbyn’s sake rather than Manchester’s. He said: “I like Corbyn, which mostly influences me to want to vote for him - but that influence would also extend to wanting to vote for members of his party who were in step with supporting his leadership, rather than challenging/opposing it and dividing the party.”

Like many, his concerns are more on a national scale, with the spectre of Brexit looming large, but he shudders at the thought of a Tory victory in Manchester: “There's always a chance, but I'd hope not, as I don't view the Tories as far from comic-book villains or malevolent oppressors at the moment.”

Labour's opponents should take solace, though, in the fact the party hasn't exactly covered itself in glory in the city.

Sarah Brown, 32, a Liberal Democrat activist, said: “Labour isn't serving Manchester well at the moment. They have such a large majority that they can do what they like without scrutiny.”

Although Brown speaks favourably of Corbyn as a “charismatic lefty”, she is clear that the sheen doesn’t transfer to Burnham, a man who she believes is merely on the hunt for the next big job.

“Andy Burnham must have been gutted to lose the Labour leadership election and having run twice he must be looking for something else," she said. "As for does he care about Manchester?  I don't know but I would think a few MPs wouldn't mind escaping the nastiness of the parliamentary Labour party.”

With a wide variety of concerns about what Manchester needs from its mayor - homelessness, cost of living and transport were all cited - it’s clear that whichever Labour candidate comes out on top following Tuesday’s announcement would do well to let their policies do the talking - and perhaps remind Labour that the only way to affect real change is to be in power.

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