For most of his twenty years as Leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese has avoided personal attacks in favour of a sometimes dull concentration on making Manchester the city it is today. He was never my go to person for a juicy quote or a bit of inside gossip.
So it is truly astonishing that he has used a blog finally confirming that he doesn’t want to be the elected mayor of Greater Manchester, to attack two of his Labour colleagues who do. His blog contained a list of reasons why he didn’t want the job but it was in an email follow up to Labour group colleagues that he reportedly let rip. His targets were the current Labour interim mayor Tony Lloyd, and the Labour MP for Bury South,Ivan Lewis. Both are running for the Labour nomination.
The BBC’s North West Political Editor Arif Ansari revealed the contents of the email and reports Leese telling colleagues that Lloyd had been an excellent MP but as interim mayor “had shown a lack of vision, drive and leadership.” Ivan Lewis “had strengths” but Leese “would take some convincing that twenty years in parliament was adequate preparation for the position of elected mayor.” Ouch! Leese says the Labour candidate should be twenty years younger and a different gender.
That seems to rule out sixty year old Hazel Blears. I don’t know if the former Salford MP wants the job but she is the most credible woman I’ve heard mentioned. At a recent Downtown event I questioned Leese on his future and he floated the gender issue as well as the possibility that the Labour candidate might reflect the multi cultural nature of Greater Manchester. So let us hope that Leese gets his wish and Labour do look beyond the usual suspects for a candidate.
Meanwhile we must return to the possible reasons for Leese deciding not to stand, to sneer at the value of the post and attack his Labour colleagues.
It may be that Lloyd, who was the MP for Stretford, and Lewis who sits for Bury South are seen by Leese as “out of towners”. Manchester City Council has historically hated having anyone meddling in their affairs be it the Greater Manchester Council from 1974-86 or the North West Development Agency more recently. The Greater Manchester Mayor is probably seen in the same way, although steps have been taken to make him/her the eleventh member of the team of ten councils. It may also be that Tony Lloyd made himself unpopular in some circles when he defeated Lord Smith of Wigan for the interim post. Many felt Smith “deserved it” for his years of work on keeping the Greater Manchester family on the rails during the devolution discussions.
It was no secret that Leese has been lukewarm about the post for a long time despite the fact that his outstanding work as Leader of Manchester had been recognised across business and in government. But now his actual reasons are clear and they almost amount to the assessment of the position of the American Vice Presidency by one of its holders, John Nance Garner. He said it wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.”
Leese doesn’t go that far but says in his blog that he would rather be having a pint in his local than be selling Greater Manchester to investment funds. He would regard being elected mayor as a “step down” from being leader of the city. He concludes that his current post is “infinitely more exciting than anything being Mayor of Greater Manchester has to offer”.
That signals that Richard Leese will be around for a while in Albert Square. His relationship with the Mayor of Greater Manchester will be interesting.