Labour’s Dan Norris has been elected as the new metro mayor for the West of England, which he says was made possible by leader Keir Starmer.
Norris won 60% of the vote after second preference votes had been added, defeating Conservative candidate Samuel Williams in the second round. This is a rare gain for Labour over the Tories, as the role was previously held by Conservative Tim Bowles, who is retiring.
Labour’s victory comes after a disappointing result yesterday, which saw Conservative Mark Shelford elected as Avon and Somerset’s new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees will be hoping to win a second term when results are declared this evening.
In the first round, Norris had a lead of 12,000 votes over Willams. The Labour candidate got 33.4% of the vote, with Williams on 28.6%. Green Jerome Thomas came third with 21.7% followed by Lib Dem Stephen Williams with 16.3%.
The Greens will be pleased about their vote share in Bristol after they came second behind Labour – the same as in the PCC election. They received 28% of votes in Bristol, behind Labour’s 36.5%, which is likely to boost their hopes of success in the Bristol Mayoral election later today.
Voter turnout across the region was higher than at the last metro mayor elections in 2017 – 36.6% compared with 29.7%. In Bristol, turnout was even higher at 40.8%.
After huge cheers from Labour activists, Norris said in his speech: “Obviously I’m most grateful to the people of the West of England who voted for me today. I’m very proud of our region. It’s a great region, but it can be even better still. Their endorsement means a lot to me.”
He thanked his “amazing” campaign team, the organisers of the election during the pandemic, and his political opponents for an “honourable and decent campaign”.
“I also want to thank Keir Starmer, who has unlocked this election for Labour in the West of England,” he added. “Without him, his skills and his determination, and him being who he is, we could not have got this result. People were able to listen to our arguments and be persuaded by them because of Keir Starmer.”
Samuel Williams said it was: “Not the outcome that I was hoping to see, but a wonderful day for democracy. We saw a fantastic turnout, which is what we want to see. We want to see people engaging with politics… It’s time to unlock this region even further.”
What is WECA?
The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) was created in 2017, following a deal between central government and the local authority areas of Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire.
The West of England Mayor oversees a small annual budget of around £30m (around £27 per head), but has power over regional issues such as transport, skills and training, and housing. The mayor may also be able to use their role to persuade central government to provide more funding to the region.
The outgoing mayor is Conservative Tim Bowles, who has been criticised for not being visible enough. A recent survey showed only 7% of voters knew who he was. Even Boris Johnson failed to name him recently when asked by a BBC journalist who the WECA mayor was.
Who is Dan Norris?
After the result, Norris said: “It’s a huge honour to be elected as Metro Mayor for an amazing part of the world that I am so proud to call home. I will show the difference an active Metro Mayor makes for our region.
“This role is about collaboration and I will be a Metro Mayor who listens carefully and works cooperatively. I’m determined to hit the ground running with a Jobs and Skills summit in my first 100 days and my Green Recovery Plan.
“I also know that the pandemic has been tough, and as we build back, invest in jobs and our high streets, we must learn key lessons. Together we can create a society where we keep looking out for each other and value what’s truly important.”
Norris has said the government’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda needs to have an east-west as well as north-south dimension when considering regional inequalities. He has called for the West of England area to ditch its ‘WECA’ acronym, due to it being too anonymous to enable it to fight its corner.
Other than jobs, he has said he would focus on public transport, affordable homes, fast and affordable broadband. He has also criticised Labour’s stance on Bristol Airport, and said he personally opposed expansion.
Norris was the MP for Wansdyke from 1997 to 2010, but lost his seat to Jacob Rees-Mogg after boundaries were redrawn to create the current North East Somerset constituency. He has come under fire from some Labour members in Bristol for voting for the Iraq war while an MP.
Under the then Labour government, he had some responsibility for the government’s environment policy, and also served as an aide to former foreign secretary David Miliband.
After this victory over the Tories, Labour will be hoping to hold onto the Bristol Mayor and council seats, the results of which are being announced on Saturday evening and Sunday.