When former Cabinet big hitter and Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham was elected Greater Manchester’s first executive mayor 100 days ago, he described his task as a big job, for which he had a big mandate.
But almost immediately his historic role was defined by his leadership of Manchester’s reaction to Salman Abedi’s callous terror attack on the Arena which left 22 people dead and many more wounded as they left Ariana Grande’s eagerly awaited concert.
Burnham emerged from his baptism of fire little more than two weeks after taking office – a day he says left him ‘sick to the stomach’ – a much more recognised figure by the public, though he would not have wished it that way. And his tribute to those who responded ‘after our darkest of nights….even in the minutes after the attack’ was measured, dignified and very well received.
But what of the mayor’s other early accomplishments? 100 days is far too short a time to make any sort of reasonable assessment, but it is clear that for the most part Burnham is beginning to steer away from the adversarial politics of the House of Commons cockpit – as he must – towards a representative role that involves working with ministers he might not particularly agree with.
He alluded to this in a recent interview on ITV. “This is not about party politics,” he said. “I am not in this job to score points against the Tories.” And he added that he would make his views known to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party when he thought they were wrong.
“I have always said this: there’s a London-centric approach to politics on both sides…and I think it needs to be challenged.”
Few, however, would criticise his furious reaction to the mothballing of plans for the upgrade and electrification of the slowcoach east-west rail link through Manchester from Leeds to Liverpool – the essence of the endangered Northern Powerhouse project – when within days the green light was given to London’s Crossrail 2.
Northern stakeholders across the board and across the political spectrum felt the same way. But if part of the mayor’s raison d’etre was to make the region’s voice louder, it had still been drowned out by the clamour from the capital.
Progress on Burnham’s manifesto pledges is taking time. He admits that his priority issue of homelessness – he promised to end rough sleeping by 2020 – has seen little visible change despite the injection of cash into community schemes. As others have discovered before him, solving the problem of rough sleepers is far more complex than simply providing shelters.
— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) August 1, 2017
He now says: “I have said let’s see if we can end rough sleeping by 2020. If we can get three-quarters of the way there, am I going to consider myself a failure? Well, no,”
It may also be a long haul regarding police manpower, but Burnham insists that you cannot continue cutting police numbers without seriously putting public safety at risk.
“The Chief Constable says that police numbers are at the low side of reasonable, which I take to be borderline unreasonable and the government has to hear that,” he said. Way to go.
Leaving aside the disappointment over major rail investment, Burnham’s transport priorities are on the move, including a key step towards delivery of smart ticketing and, from September, the halving of bus fares for 16-18 year olds – a step on the way towards provision of free passes for the age group.
His appointment of Olympic gold medal winner Chris Boardman as the region’s cycling and walking guru is also a bold statement of intent.
Less straightforward will be implementing his pledge to rewrite the controversial Greater Manchester development masterplan for the next 20 years. It’s a classic housing and jobs versus green belt debate that is bound, in the end, to upset some people, however radical the rewrite.
Good luck with that one, Mr Mayor.