Tracy Brabin running to become the 'Andy Burnham of West Yorkshire’

The Labour MP and former Coronation Street star hoping to become the “Andy Burnham of West Yorkshire” is running to be the region’s mayor because she’s “sick of all the metro mayors being men.”

Tracy Brabin, who became the MP for Batley and Spen after the murder of Jo Cox in 2016, was selected as Labour’s candidate on Friday.

She won just over 50% of the votes, beating Bradford council leader, Susan Hinchliffe, into second place and lawyer Hugh Goulbourne into third.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brabin warned that the Conservatives will “throw everything” at the inaugural elections in May 2021. The mayor will represent around 2.3m people in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees and the Calder Valley.

Brabin, who grew up on a council estate in Batley and went on to play Tricia Armstrong in Coronation Street in the 1990s, said she decided to run because Labour needed a mayor who the public would recognise.

“If that comes from Corrie, I don’t care, because at least then they will be listening, potentially, to what I’ve got to say,” she said.

But she admitted her primary motivation was to stop the mayoralties being all run by men. “All you have at the moment is men in suits – or men in parkas, in Andy Burnham’s case,” she said.

If she wins, she plans to give up her Westminster seat, believing being mayor is a “24/7 job”. Her former Westminster colleagues Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, did the same in 2017 –though Dan Jarvis, the mayor of the Sheffield city region since 2018, a currently unpaid post, kept on to his job as Labour MP for Barnsley Central after devolution proposals were watered down in his region.

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Tracy Brabin during a Covid-19 update by Matt Hancock in the House of Commons.

Tracy Brabin during a Covid-19 update by Matt Hancock in the House of Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

Brabin warned that Labour was not a shoo-in to win the election: “The campaign is going be incredibly different this time around, it’s going to be online, people have got so much else going on in the lives, the Tories are going to throw everything at it, and they outspend us on Facebook [adverts].”

She added: “We can’t rely on the failures of the government to give us a Labour mayor here. As we’ve seen in the red wall seats, nothing can be taken for granted. And certainly a low turn-out, because people’s lives are so busy, could deliver a Tory mayor … anybody who thinks this will be a push-over is in for a shock.”

The Conservatives won a string of Labour seats in West Yorkshire in last year’s general election, including Wakefield, which had been Labour since 1932, and the swing seats of Keighley and Dewsbury. Nine out of 22 constituencies in the region are now represented by Tories, who have yet to select their candidate for the mayoral race.

Metro mayors were the invention of former Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, who always believed they had the power to transcend traditional party politics.

He was proven right in 2017 when the Tees Valley, previously a Labour stronghold, elected a Conservative, Ben Houchen, to be their first mayor. Andy Street, former managing director of John Lewis, also became the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands that year.

Brabin warned that the Conservatives were likely to resort to “pork barrel politics” which could sway voters, such as the £3.6bn towns fund, which favoured Tory marginal seats over more deprived areas, and the £4.8bn “levelling up” fund, which will be administered from Whitehall.

Brabin pledged to make the case as a Yorkshire woman for God’s Own County: “I think we do have enormous potential here to be the best place in the country to live and work and to grow up and have a family and to get old and to start a business,” she said.

The government had to transfer “real powers” to the mayors, said Brabin, noting that while Covid had thrust the mayors into the spotlight, they still lacked key hard powers.

If elected, she said her first task would be to assess “how decimated” West Yorkshire’s economy has been by Covid. Then she wants to push for a “mass transit system” to connect the region’s towns and cities, noting that her constituents in Cleckheaton cannot get to Leeds by train.

She also wants to introduce a “fair work charter” which she said would encourage employers to provide “decent paying jobs”. She would then push for the West Yorkshire combined authority to only procure goods and services from companies that signed up.

An independent remuneration committee has yet to decide on the West Yorkshire mayor’s pay, but Brabin said she expected the same salary as Burnham, who earns £110,000 a year but gives 15% of it away each month to his homelessness charity. “I believe in equal pay, absolutely,” she said.


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