Senior Labour politicians have said devolution to city regions offers the party an opportunity to bypass central government policy and prove it can govern again.
On the penultimate day of Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool there were repeated reference to the party’s control of all core cities, with mayors elected in London and Bristol - and expected victories in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands next May.
With the party nationally performing dismally in the polls under controversial leader Jeremy Corbyn, today London mayor Sadiq Khan said Labour control of cities would show the party could be “trusted to govern again”.
Mr Khan, who backed Mr Corbyn’s rival Owen Smith in the leadership contest, added: “With Labour in power [in city regions] we can demonstrate that we can prove that we can make a real difference to people’s lives and with Labour in power we can prove that we are ready for government.”
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson told conference Labour elected mayors could remind voters “what Labour government looks like - how innovative and radical we can be.”
Bristol City Council mayor Marvin Rees said devolution offered an “opportunity” as well as a key challenge for Labour and called for cities not to be undervalued
He said: “In 2020, or whenever the next election is, Labour will be judged not just as a national party in opposition but what Labour does in power in city regions.
“Devolution gives city leaders the space and resources to get things done and city leaders should have a seat at the decision table in a post-national world.”
He added that city government had long seen itself as just a provider of services, but through collaboration with the private and voluntary sector, must become an “enabling organisation”.
Speaking at a fringe meeting on Tuesday, leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake said it was “absolutely crucial” that Labour had political control of all core cities and London, which combined are responsible for 50% of the country’s economic output.
She said this offers a good opportunity to assess how to collaborate across areas “built up” through city regions and mitigate the impact of government policy.
Cllr Blake, who is also chair of the Core Cities group, said: “How powerful should this be for us? It looks like we are going to be stuck with this government for a long time so how do we bypass government, how can we empower ourselves and get across the key Labour message?”
She added that Theresa May had signalled the government was relaxing a requirement for an elected mayor, providing the opportunity for cities to devise alternative forms of governance “to get deals over the line”.