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April 17, 2024updated 25 Apr 2024 11:00am

Can Andy Street cling on in the West Midlands?

The herd is moving in the West Midlands. Can the likeable Conservative mayor hold on?

By Ben Walker

Andy Street is in trouble. The likeable mayor of the West Midlands, which only covers the Black Country, Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry (not the whole of the West Midlands region), may be on his way out according to Redfield & Wilton polling.

At the initial time of this writing, Street as the Conservative candidate was on 28 per cent, down from 49 per cent of first-preference votes in 2021. The Labour candidate Richard Parker was on 42 per cent, up from Liam Byrne’s 40 per cent three years ago. Parker was comfortably ahead, but the party was only up two points on what was a poor local election showing in 2021. This should disappoint Labour staffers.

New late-April polling meanwhile finds the gap has narrowed. Street is now on 37 per cent, against Parker’s 43 per cent, a 6pt lead for Labour still, but significantly narrowed on the previous week.

Reform were sitting pretty on 13 per cent (up from 2 per cent in 2021), a sizeable share that comes disproportionately from the boroughs of Dudley, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich – locales where Ukip was strong. But now they’re on four per cent, down nine – a remarkable squeeze on the radical right. For 2021 Street voters to go from 11 per cent switching to Reform to just 1 per cent is a notable statistic.

But the important thing to work out from some pollsters is whether this entry is another in the series of noisy polls, in that we’re seeing a large swing to one side this week, that will only be reversed with a large swing against in the next. A number of pollsters have form for that, and the dramatic swing of Reform voters feels almost a little too dramatic.

The initial numbers, favourable for Labour, looked rather national, in that they resembled how the West Midlands might vote in a general election held today, not a regional one. In the 2019 general, the Conservatives tied with Labour for votes in the area at 44 per cent apiece. The Tories falling 16 points from that isn’t unreasonable in a general election. But to see them fall only 7pts is a mark of the Street campaign – not, I emphasise, the Tory campaign – picking up steam.

This is all quite remarkable given, by and large, the herd has been very much moving against the government and its advocates for quite some time. But Street has some personal credit among the public. Redfield & Wilton polled West Mids residents on familiarity with the candidates, and found 47 per cent were fairly or very familiar with the mayor, against 33 per cent who were not at all. Not only that, but Street has a net approval rating of +22 with residents, as high among 2019 Conservative voters as 2019 Labour voters.

This about turn in public opinion is remarkable. The initial polling at the start of April showed Street was not a significant household number. For the proportion to say they are not at all familiar with the West Mids mayor to fall from 33 per cent to 18 per cent is eye-opening. But I repeat, whether this is the mark of a noisy pollster being noisy is yet to be seen. The stark swing in Street's favour in this week's poll may revert back next week. We can't yet speak with certainty.

Andy Street is not a non-entity with voters. But he’s not a household name, either. Which in one sense should make these polls rather eye-opening; and in another, not at all. He was 14 points behind his Labour opponent – now he's behind by six. Relative familiarity (or lack thereof) like this that could prove fatal. What sits high in the mind of voters as they cast their ballots on 2nd May is the key issue here. If it's parties, then Labour should win handily. But if it's candidates, then the regional mayor with a net approval of +22 should be in with a chance.

As Boris Johnson himself once put it one sweltering summer’s day when he realised the game was up: when the herd moves, the herd moves. The expectation should be a Labour gain in the West Midlands, a locale hosting soon to be some of the most hard-fought seats of the general election campaign. The probability is Mr Street will be but another casualty of that herd, however close the race is. But it's not a nailed on probability, not by any stretch.

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