Andy Street in job hunt to help 'city I love' and save Conservative Party from lurching right

Former West Midlands mayor Andy Street is plotting a new double mission - to help save the beleaguered Conservative Party from the tyranny of a further lurch to the right, and find a new job in Birmingham, the city he loves, so he can continue his quest to 'realise its potential'.

Four weeks after narrowly losing the mayoralty role to Labour's Richard Parker, Street is clearly refreshed and already on the lookout for a new role. Not just any old job will do mind - it has to be 'just right' and play to his executive strengths. It's why he's started speaking to specialist headhunters, he revealed - and why he rejects the prospect of being an MP.

But he does want to be part of a taskforce remaking the Conservative Party, post election, ideally in his image. And if that involves taking a seat in the House of Lords, or a role in a think-tank helping shape party policy, they could be realistic options, muses Street.

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In his first, exclusive interview since he walked away from Birmingham's ICC four weeks ago, stung by mayoral defeat, Street is in reflective and optimistic mood about his personal future prospects, but less upbeat about his party's chances.

In the last week he has considered, then rejected, the chance to take on the relatively safe Conservative seat of Solihull West and Shirley, in place of Julian Knight. It was a role that did not match Street's ambitions, he said.

"I think I might actually have been quite unhappy having taken the Solihull job and might have found myself in conflict with my own party fairly quickly. It was a clear decision for me.

"Friends who are MPs - Michael (Fabricant), Andrew (Mitchell) and so on - they have made the decision to be MPs and they love it, they love the life they have. It would not be for me."

Defeated Conservative Andy Street (left) listens to Labours Richard Parker speaking as he is elected as the new Mayor of West Midlands.
Defeated Conservative Andy Street (left) listens to Labour's Richard Parker speaking as he is elected as the new Mayor of West Midlands, following the count at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham. Picture date: Saturday May 4, 2024. -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

He described the role of an MP as "influencing, debating, representative" and "those are not the things that get me excited. The political role of mayor appealed because my role was to shape and drive that institution on from nothing, to what it is now. I loved that."

Now 60, Street reckons he has, based on average statistics, another decade or so of 'good health' in him if fortune prevails - enough time to take on another project as an executive, shape its mission and deliver. And it's in Birmingham ideally he'd want to do that.

Street brings up an opinion article I wrote last month suggesting he might be a decent choice as next chief executive of Birmingham City Council - a £295,000 a year post currently vacant. It was ridiculed by some, particularly inside Labour, as a daft suggestion, not least because Street could hardly pretend to be politically neutral as the role demands, and his relationship with the current Labour leadership might need some work, to put it politely.

"I actually didn’t think it was a stupid idea at all," he says, and nor did others close to him. "It definitely reflected my ambition and my desire to contribute to this place. This is home, and I feel a real ambition still to be part of its story. I believe that is important to me. All things being equal, this is where I want to make the biggest contribution," he added.

But he has not yet identified what exactly that role would look like. "I just know I want to make a contribution to the public policy debate, do something hopefully positive for my city and region, and support my party."

Read the Andy Street interview in full here on Inside Birmingham with Jane Haynes

This morning (Sunday June 2) he will make his first TV appearance since his mayoral loss, on BBC1's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show. He said he wanted to speak up on a national platform about the 'critical mission' ahead for the Conservative Party and 'make the case' for the centrist, socially responsible Conservatism he believes in.

"The reaction of the party to what happens on July 4th is mission critical. I caveat that by of course saying I still want us to win, and a hung parliament is still within reach - but assuming we don’t win, the reaction to loss is really important and will shape the next decade.

"There will be some who will say we lost because we were not out-reforming Reform and moving further right - but the lesson of history, and of what happened here in the West Midlands, is very clear," he said.

"We got so close (to winning a third mayoral term, despite the party's parlous national state) because we positioned our brand of Conservatism as a very centrist, socially responsible brand. I hope now, and will do all I can to help ensure, that the party does not veer further right and indeed comes back to the centre."

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He confirmed that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not contact him during his mayoral campaign and has not been in touch to commiserate over his loss since. The two fell out publicly when Sunak pulled the plug on the HS2 project north during the party's conference in Manchester of all places, dashing Street's hopes of seeing HS2 completed in full.

But plenty of 'my type of Conservatives' have been in touch, he says. "Therese May, David Cameron, George Osborne, Tom Tugendhat, Phillip Hammond, Greg Clarke, the list goes on, they were very kind, all the One Nation Conservatives have rallied around me," he said.

"I am clear that I do not want to be an MP, but I would want to be part of trying to ensure the party that emerges out of the election was seeking to occupy the centre ground. Speaking hypothetically, the House of Lords is one option - I have had no discussions about that, I wish to make that clear, but you will have seen how lots of people have done that, through history and right now with the foreign secretary (Lord David Cameron)."

Another option he considers viable would be to contribute to a 'think tank' - "frankly we all neglect policy making but it is the most important thing of all. Everyone is obsessed with personalities, but the first thing any party in opposition has to do is put its platform together.

"That would be really, really attractive, to help plot that through. There has to be some organisational stuff done too, around how the voluntary parts of the party are organised and led, how the executive is organised. So right now this is all hypothetical but I do believe I can contribute."

That ambition to 'be involved' would persist even if the core of the party's representatives, post election, is 'right leaning'. "I would still want to be in the debate. Conference is coming and it will be held here (in Birmingham, September 29-Oct 2) and I will want to be here and telling the story for the centre ground.

"But I don’t genuinely know what the reaction is going to be to election defeat. All I am certain of is that the only time we win is when we are centrist. We do not win by being right wing.

"Look through history and the evidence is there. Baldwin, Chamberlain, Macmillan, right through even to Thatcher, who won from the centre ground in 1979 and only after moved right, Cameron...the lesson of history is clear, the Conservative Party comes back with big election wins when it is in that centre ground. 100 years of history tells us that."

We turn next to the mayoralty and the job that he has recently lost by a tiny margin - 1,508 votes in the end, the equivalent of 'one extra vote in each of the ballot boxes around the region'. How is he doing?

"I am still really sad and regret losing a lot. I still feel pretty devastated, mostly because I feel I had put in the hard yards and the next term would have seen a lot of that work come to fruition. I feel cheated to be honest, yes.

"When I started as mayor seven years ago we didn’t have an office, or a PA or anything really, and a small budget, and it’s become something really significant, with a war chest of around £8 billion that has been bequeathed on to the next mayor. I do believe we built something good from nothing."

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