THE BLOG

Andy Burnham's First 100 Days

17/08/2017 16:33 BST | Updated 17/08/2017 16:33 BST
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A politician can issue as many mission statements as they like. They can write a comprehensive manifesto that sets out a plan of action. And they can make as many promises as they think they can keep. But ultimately, as history shows time and time again, the true measure of their success, their effectiveness and their authority comes from how they react to the unforeseen. Events, dear boy, as Harold Macmillan put it.

So it has proved with Andy Burnham's first 100 days as Greater Manchester's first directly elected metro Mayor.

Less than two weeks into his three year term, the Ariane Grande concert at the Manchester required an immediate response from services on the ground. As the city region woke the news, it also required a confident, empathetic and unifying leadership. By any measure he achieved that. The cameras pointed to him, the public looked to him. He didn't need the public platform of the vigil in Albert Square, that moment was for Tony Walsh, the poet. But in the days following his tone, his message, was spot on.

His swift response to the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower in west London was also a tribute to his convening power and capacity to pull together the relevant players. A group was drawn together in the immediate aftermath to display confidence to Greater Manchester residents.

His work rate, his visibility, and therefore his moral authority, is sky high. A Digital Summit that successfully brought together the disparate tribes of Manchester's tech community was a great success, largely down to his convening power, but also his commitment on the day. He insisted that Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry come to him at the Museum of Science and Industry, while the event was taking place, and where he was committed to stay for the day.

A summit on homelessness at Salford University pulled in a huge range of expertise committed to solving one of the city region's wicked problems, his number one commitment.

When he attended a forum to tackle the blight of the synthetic drug spice, organised by MetroPolis, the think tank we established at Manchester Metropolitan University, he did so in order to listen and take soundings from those who know what they're talking about.

He's chosen his top team well too - putting Sir Richard Leese and Beverley Hughes at his side from the start was a strong signal. It had to wait until after the General Election, but his Tory opponent and Trafford council leader, Sean Anstee, was a smart choice as skills lead. But make no mistake, this is his administration.

In many ways the system wasn't designed for a politician like this. Greater Manchester's strength has been pragmatism, ambition and collective working. Unlike other local politicians that the civic officials have been working with, Burnham wakes up in the morning thinking about Politics with a big P. He isn't in this to manage an existing strategy for Greater Manchester, but to open up policy making and politics, or as he said at the Peoples Powerhouse conference in Doncaster, to create positive social change in Greater Manchester that others take inspiration from.

That's where his relationship with the Labour Party starts to get curious. He won 359,000 votes across Greater Manchester, 63% of the total vote, winning wards where Labour never comes close (like the one I live in and in the parliamentary constituency I stood in). His status as a nationally recognised politician has been a real game changer. A perceived snub to Jeremy Corbyn on the day of his election has, it is alleged, led to him being denied a major speech at Labour Party conference in Brighton. That may prove to be silly season speculation, but the sense that he's building Brand Burnham is unmistakeable, and in doing so he's gone unilateral in many of his statements, initiatives and pronouncements. The first 100 days ambition was something he pointed to in his own campaign and he's stuck to the commitments on action to tackle rough sleeping (a problem he acknowledges may even have got worse), host a digital summit and lower bus fares for teenagers. But the momentum and energy he's had to demonstrate is precisely because this is a punishingly short term - three years in politics is nothing. 100 days is a blink of an eye.

So what's next? In the Manchester Evening News, Jennifer Williams points to some of the under the surface tensions in the Greater Manchester family as Burnham makes moves on his promised "radical rewrite" of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, an ambitious programme of development, housebuilding and incursions into the greenbelt.

Finally, I knew that Mayor Burnham had truly consolidated his authority and his place in the mind's eye when I saw a noisy protest outside his office on Oxford Street. Homeless campaigners were demanding an audience with him over the evictions from squats. It wasn't his decision to evict, nor does he have the direct power to overturn. But he's the name on their lips.