Who is Tracy Brabin, Labour's victorious West Yorkshire metro mayor?

She has been announced as West Yorkshire's first elected metro mayor in one of the few Labour local election successes.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 6:54 am

But what do we know about Labour's Tracy Brabin?

Background:

Ms Brabin was born in Batley, the town she would go onto represent as an MP, in 1961 and educated at Heckmondwike Grammar School.

Tracy Brabin pictured in Ilkley. Pic by Getty Images

Before entering politics she was an actress and television writer, appearing in several British soap operas including Coronation Street, EastEnders, Casualty and Emmerdale.

Among the other eye-catching roles viewers might remember are a role in the film Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After (1992), in which she played Sarah, Duchess of York, and clumsy waitress Sandra playing opposite David Jason in A Bit of a Do.

On the stage, Ms Brabin played Linda, Sharon and Annie in Simon Beaufoy's play The Full Monty, an adaptation of his screenplay for the film, directed by Sheffield Theatre's Daniel Evans.

Career in politics:

Tracy Brabin, Labour's candidate to be West Yorkshire mayor. Pic: Steve Riding

She showed an interest in politics before standing to become an MP, including being the lead member of a group of nine actors to write to The Observer explaining that while they continued to oppose the Blair government's military intervention in Iraq, they still "strongly support the re-election of a Labour government".

Following the murder of her friend Jo Cox, the MP for Batley & Spen, in 2016, Ms Brabin was selected by local Labour members as the party's candidate to replace her. Most other parties did not stand candidates out of respect to Mrs Cox and she was duly elected in October 2016.

Since then she has stood for re-election twice in 2017 and 2019, though her majority the second time was reduced to just 3,525.

Ms Brabin has held two Shadow Cabinet roles and was Shadow Minister for Early Years under Jeremy Corbyn before being appointed as Shadow Culture Minister in January 2020.

Tracy Brabin pictured with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Pic: PA

After West Yorkshire's £1.8bn devolution deal was signed last March, Ms Brabin stood down from her frontbench responsibilities to put herself forward to be Labour's candidate for the new mayoral role. She quickly secured a celebrity endorsement in the form of West Yorkshire-born Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker.

When Labour's candidate was chosen, Ms Brabin got more votes than Bradford council leader Susan Hinchcliffe and lawyer Hugh Goulbourne. Party members from across the county were balloted as part of the selection process.

West Yorkshire campaign:

In the end seven candidates stood to be West Yorkshire mayor, including Conservative Matt Robinson, Liberal Democrat Stewart Golton and Bob Buxton of The Yorkshire Party.

Ms Brabin benefitted from a number of visits by high profile Labour frontbenchers, including leader Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds and Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband, who joined her at Ilkley Brewery.

In a piece for The Yorkshire Post she said she would "bring buses back under public control, simplify fares and fight for smart ticketing".

And she added: "I will stand up for West Yorkshire, fight for investment in rail and get West Yorkshire moving again.

"But the mayor’s ambition must stretch beyond transport. I want to create 1000 well paid, skilled jobs for young people and prioritise skills and training so we make sure everyone is equipped to get good jobs. Working people and local businesses have borne the brunt of the Chancellor’s neglect. I will be a champion for them."

And she said she wanted to win the election before she makes a decision on who will take on the powers currently held by the Police and Crime Commissioner to hold West Yorkshire Police to account and set its priorities.

Her campaign did attract some controversy, as she was criticised by her rivals for missing a number of hustings events. And she was reported to police for handing out brownies while campaigning, though West Yorkshire Police quickly clarified that she had not broken election rules.

The future:

If elected as metro mayor for West Yorkshire she will enjoy powers and resources similar to those of Greater Manchester's Andy Burnham, Sheffield City Region's Dan Jarvis and Tees Valley's Ben Houchen.

The devolution deal signed by West Yorkshire's five council leaders last March includes control of a £38m per year 'gainshare' fund for the next three decades as well as access to other funding streams previously held under lock and key by central government.

Within a few months of taking power the mayor will have control of the £63m adult education budget, meaning they can decide where to prioritise funding to help people aged 19 and over into jobs, an apprenticeship, traineeship, or other further learning.

Despite the rhetoric about empowering city regions to shape their own destinies, metro mayors have relatively few powers and levers to pull. To succeed they will need the backing of other local leaders, a good relationship with Whitehall and to feel the benefit of political winds blowing in the right direction.

Her election would leave Labour bosses with a headache as she is obliged to stand down as MP, triggering a by-election in her constituency of Batley & Spen.

In the Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis serves as metro mayor despite also being an MP in Barnsley. But Ms Brabin has insisted she will be a “full-time mayor”.

According to the Electoral Commission, which oversees elections, any individual with police and crime commissioner responsibilities must stand down as an MP before taking up the role.

One Labour figure told the Financial Times the party was lining up Lisa Johnson, director of external relations at the GMB trade union, and Fazila Aswat, the office manager who was with Mrs Cox when she was murdered, as likely candidates for the seat.

Unlike in other parts of Yorkshire, Batley & Spen did not gather a large Brexit Party vote in 2019, with the party candidate securing only 1,678 votes. But independent Paul Halloran received 6,432 votes, a total nearly twice as large as Ms Brabin’s majority.