Labour’s Liam Byrne tells Political Editor Jonathan Walker why he wants to be Birmingham’s first mayor, why he can win despite coming late to the race and why his decision to stand was backed by Ed Miliband.
He’s a latecomer to the mayoral battle but Liam Byrne believes he can win – thanks to his experience in national government, his commitment to creating new jobs and his friend Sir Albert Bore.
Of course, Birmingham hasn’t yet decided it even wants a mayor.
The referendum on May 3, asking voters whether they want a new form of local government, could go either way.
But that didn’t stop Labour hopefuls like Sion Simon, former MP for Birmingham Erdington, and Gisela Stuart, who represents Birmingham Edgbaston, throwing their hats into the ring long ago.
Mr Simon’s been campaigning since before the general election in May 2010.
It means Mr Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, starts at a disadvantage in his battle to persuade Labour’s members in Birmingham to pick him as their candidate if the result of the referendum is “yes”.
Fewer than 4,000 activists will get to choose who represents Labour if a mayoral election takes place on November 15.
But Mr Byrne was upbeat when he spoke to me after he announced his decision to stand – with the backing of Sir Albert, Labour group leader on Birmingham City Council.
A former mayoral candidate himself, Sir Albert dropped out of the race in return for the promise of a position as deputy mayor.
Mr Byrne said: “A lot of people said to me: ‘If you think a mayor is so important why aren’t you prepared to do it?’
“I came to realise I need to put my money where my mouth is.
“I need to be prepared to step up to the plate and say I feel so strongly about this that it’s a job I’m prepared to leave Westminster to try to do.
“The question then was: ‘Can I build a Premier League team that can do the business for the city?’
“And, as more and more people called me over the last month, I came to see I could build that team.
“The first step is the announcement that Albert will step out of the race and we will join forces. If we are successful in November, we’ll seek to form a joint administration.”
Mr Byrne has a number of potential strengths as a candidate.
He has the most impressive CV of the Labour contenders, including his current roles as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary and head of Labour’s national policy review.
He was also a cabinet member in the last government and Minister for the West Midlands.
At the official launch of his campaign, he put employment at the centre of his campaign – contrasting Birmingham’s 52,000-strong dole queue with the 6,500 vacancies on offer in job centres.
Mr Byrne said: “The first thing I would do is ring the leaders of major businesses in Britain and abroad and ask: ‘What is it we need to do as a city to bring your businesses and new jobs here to Birmingham?’
“Secondly, small businesses. They create half of new jobs.
“That’s why a mayor needs to bring together the public sector in Birmingham and say: ‘All things being equal, we should be buying Birmingham first’.
“That is the kind of boost our small business community could do with, a shot in the arm that could make a difference.