Richard North, 10/05/2021  

Former Coronation Street actress, Labour's Tracy Brabin (pictured), has got herself appointed "mayor" for the West Yorkshire combined authority, with an overall turnout of 38.5 percent from a total electorate of 1,575,194 (estimated), the first to hold the post for this newly created body.

Her share of first preference votes is 261,170, out of a total valid votes cast of 606,135 (43.1 percent). She thus carries the endorsement of a mere 16.6 percent of the total electorate.

Although there are five metropolitan district councils which make up West Yorkshire, her personal vote is smaller than the electorate for all but one of the districts, and less than half that of the largest, Leeds, which registers 538,012 voters.

Yet, this dismal performance does not stop Brabin gushing on Twitter, "We did it! I'm proud to be the first West Yorkshire Metro Mayor and I'm incredibly humbled and grateful for every single vote".

She goes on assure us that she "will fight for every single resident so everyone has the opportunity to succeed", presumably meaning all 2.3 million of them, to whom she conveys a heartfelt "thank you".

No doubt, she is especially thankful to the one in six of the electorate who actually voted for her, awarding her a comfortable salary of £105,000.

This is something of an improvement on Brabin's £81,932 salary as MP for Batley and Spen, a constituency she has represented since the by-election on 20 October 2016, following the murder of the incumbent, Jo Cox. She must now vacate the seat where even her kindest critics would agree that she is totally out of her depth, precipitating another by-election for Labour.

Ironically, she has been awarded the salary hike by an Independent Remuneration Panel, after it suggested that the "level of complexity" of the role of mayor was greater than that of a backbench MP. The egregious Tracy, therefore, can fail upwards in some comfort, if not style.

Interestingly, the official website does not show the figure for the electorate, which had to be drawn from the previous election of the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016.

There, the website shows Labour's Mark Burns-Williamson elected on 49.7 percent of the vote, on an overall turnout of 34.8 percent. That had Burns-Williamson represent the residents of West Yorkshire with the endorsement of 17.3 percent of the electorate – on the face of it, a better showing that Brabin, whose role she takes over.

Meanwhile, her Party must steel itself for a by-election where the aggregated local election results put the Conservatives on 39.9 percent (up 16.2 percent on 2016) and Labour on 39.6 percent (down 2.5 percent). Although local election results are not the best indicators of parliamentary performance, this points to a nail-biting time for Starmer's Labour, presenting him with the nightmare scenario of losing two by-elections to Johnson.

At least Labour's Andy Burnham, newly elected mayor for Greater Manchester, has done slightly better than Brabin, polling 473,024 votes, representing a 67.31 percent share of the vote. Thus, despite and even more dismal overall turnout of 34.7 percent, he still manages to secure the endorsement of 23.4 percent of the 2,057,643-strong electorate.

What makes the difference here though, is that the Telegraph and others consider that to be a "landslide", when a politician gets the votes of significantly less than a quarter of the electorate, marking the man down as potential leader of the Labour Party.

This rather brings home the lack of awareness of quite how slender these electoral mandates are. Yet, this is shared by the politicians themselves. Despite a turnout of a mere 42 percent for the London mayor, with Sadiq Khan securing the endorsement of 16 percent of the electorate, Will Norman, the mayor's "walking and cycling Commissioner", thought the election results "a ringing endorsement".

Norman, with the blessing of the mayor, therefore, will continue with the enormously unpopular programme of closing down streets to traffic, in the name of making them "safer for walking and cycling". With one in six of the electorate behind him, he "can't wait to get cracking and deliver the Mayor of London's ambitious new manifesto".

This is the same city, by the way, where – according to Raphael Sheridan, a BBC London journalist, 87,214 Londoners had their mayoral votes rejected because they accidentally voted twice in the "first preference" column. That, says Sheridan, is the equivalent of a full Wembley Stadium or - to put it another way - 1 in 30 of all votes cast in the election.

Perhaps it is just as well that – as the Guardian would have it – that ministers are moving to discard the "supplementary vote" system in favour of first past the post for mayoral elections. Clearly, there is a significant volume of people who can't even deal with the complications of first and second preference votes.

However, with Labour having won 11 of the 13 posts which have been up for grabs, the Guardian is suggesting that the change will make it easier for the Tories to win future contests. One suspects that they must be feeling left out, unable to claim their share of this expanding gravy train, where the taxpayer is forced yet again to provide lucrative jobs for second-tier politicians.

One could even think that this was in some way compensation for the political classes losing out on the EU gravy train, with neither Commissioner jobs nor MEP seats any longer available.

It is ironic, therefore, that the post-war move towards regionalisation, represented by the appointment of directly-elected mayors, stems largely from EU policies, as means of furthering political integration.

Like climate change, and many other wasteful EU policies, the hope was that, once we'd seen the back of the EU, we could dispense with the political baggage, regionalisation being one of them.

With a gravy train too good to miss, though, we are saddled with the mayoral charade, as the likes of Tracy Brabin line their pockets with taxpayer's cash, to perform a role that few people want, in an authority which exists without an electoral mandate, the whole package, disguised as devolution, lacking democratic legitimacy.

Interestingly, after days of crashing tedium, after the media has indulged itself in charting the fortunes of these useless politicians, the newspapers have reverted to type largely featuring the relaxation of covid restrictions, allowing – as several papers have put it on their front pages – "the darling hugs of May".

The one thing the media seems reluctant to broach is the decay of the democratic system represented by these elections just past, and those to come. Instead, the papers will entertain themselves with the soap opera of the Labour crisis, while the worst prime minister in living memory continues to dominate the political high ground.

It is perhaps possible that we could be more poorly served by the political system, but I struggle to see how.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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