The battle to become Birmingham’s first directly-elected mayor has been blown wide open with the announcement by former Cabinet Minister Liam Byrne that he wants the job - and he has listed his top three priorities as "jobs, jobs and jobs".
The MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill is a key member of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet team at Westminster, and has been leading the policy review that will help decide his party’s manifesto at the next general election.
But he has announced plans to leave his high-profile national role behind and dedicate himself to running Birmingham – if the city votes “yes” in a referendum on creating a mayor, on May 3.
Mr Byrne announced his priorities would be “jobs, jobs, jobs” – and he would get to work encouraging major firms to invest in Birmingham on his first day in the new role.
He also revealed that, in a major coup, he had already won the support of former city council leader Sir Albert Bore, the leader of the Labour group on the city council.
Sir Albert had previously hoped to stand for mayor himself, but will now back Mr Byrne – and would serve as Deputy Mayor in any administration led by the MP.
However, even if the city does choose to create a mayor, Mr Byrne still needs to defeat Labour rivals Sion Simon, the former MP for Erdington, and Gisela Stuart, the MP for Edgbaston, in the battle to become the party’s candidate.
If he was selected, he would need to stand down as MP for Hodge Hill, prompting a by-election in the Birmingham constituency which would probably take place on the same day as the mayoral election, on November 15.
His announcement will be seized on by critics of Labour leader Ed Miliband as showing a lack of confidence in Labour’s prospects nationally.
But Mr Byrne insisted he backed Mr Miliband, and said he received his party leader’s blessing to stand for mayor of Birmingham when the pair met on Sunday.
Speaking to the Mail, he said: “If the city votes ‘yes’ for a mayor then I’m going to seek to be Labour’s candidate.
“I’m standing because I’m passionate about our city. It’s my home, it’s where my children will grow up, and I think our best days are ahead of us.
“But the truth is the city is now at a fork in the road. Unless we get some big issues sorted out now then we’re not going to be the city I know we can be in the years to come.
“That’s why I think the city needs to vote yes to a mayor. Only a city can bring together people in the way we need, to get these issues sorted.”
Creating jobs in Birmingham would be his top priority as mayor, he said.
“Unless the city comes together to get people back to work then Birmingham is not going to be the city I know it can be in the years to come.
“Right now there are only 6,500 vacancies in the job centres – but there are 52,000 people on the dole.