It was all smiles in Wolverhampton earlier this week as Labour’s national leaders, Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves, and Angela Rayner, went out to see their new regional lieutenants after their election victories last week. Now holding 11 out of 12 Metro Mayoral seats in the country, we can see more signs of Labour’s growing momentum.

But amongst the awkward selfies, countless handshakes, and shared sense of optimism, the prospect of growing tension looms.

All of the Mayors, including the Conservative’s Ben Houchen in Tees Valley and (formerly) Andy Street in the West Midlands have made a play for representatives of their area more than their party. Indeed, it was noticeable how neither Houchen nor Street used Tory messaging, logos or colours for their campaign to try and distance themselves from the poor national poll ratings for the party.

This has suited the Labour Mayors in particular – setting themselves up as defenders of their region in opposition to a national Conservative Government that doesn’t care about their issues.

With the prospect of a Labour Government in Westminster, however, that dynamic could be about to change.

Relations between Labour mayors, particularly the highest profile ones, Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, and the team around LOTO (Leader of the Opposition) are said to be much improved since Sue Gray joined the party. The “uncompromising operator” is now meeting the Labour mayors every two weeks, undoubtedly offering the assistance of the central party, but also likely ensuring that these regional barons, with their flourishing powers, growing profile, and sizeable influence, stay on brand.

With all this coordination and goodwill, it does then beg the question of how Andy Burnham’s seemingly unauthorised announcement on the Right to Buy was allowed to happen.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Burnham announced that he wanted to suspend Right to Buy as a means to solving the housing crisis, which was quickly rejected by Rachel Reeves who said that the party had no plans for doing this.

Burnham’s brand has been built on being outspoken, which has served him well when he has been seen to be fighting with the Conservative Government, but the dynamics are already changing with an ascendant Labour party, and will no doubt change further should they take office.

Polling shows that Greater Manchester residents are most satisfied with how their mayor has stood up for the people of the region. His vocal opposition to Greater Manchester’s lengthy pandemic restrictions was very well received by residents, and since then he has shown similar resolve on the introduction of the MBacc, the devolution of employment support, and now, Right to Buy.

So is the right to buy conflict the first sign of inevitable tension between the mayors and LOTO?

An interesting distinction might emerge between new and established mayors. McGuinness of the North East, Skaith of North Yorkshire, Parker and Ward, of West and East Midlands respectively, with less personal reputation owe their recent success, in some part, to the support of the national party. Will they be more inclined to fall into line with the demands of the national party than the more established Mayors in the North West?

Even Khan, the most senior and longest-serving of the mayors, owes his victory in part to the support of the Party. London is often described as a ‘Labour city’, but polling shows that Khan was more than twice as unpopular in London as Street was in the West Midlands before the election. Only one of them lost their job.

Then there are the more established of the mayors of the North: Steve Rotheram, Tracy Brabin, and Andy Burnham. These three have established reputations within their regions with proven track records, name recognition, and a swagger that can only come with experience.

With Brabin’s position as Chair of the influential M10 group of Metro Mayors, Rotherham’s unwavering support in and around Liverpool, and Burnham’s national profile, here rests the potential for a significant power bloc that has the potential to cause a future Labour government a significant headache.

The specific causes of such conflict are many and unpredictable. Demands are growing for more fiscal devolution, reform of the apprenticeship levy and devolution of DWP funds – all of which might not be top of Labour’s priorities list for its first term.

How the party manages its various power bases will be crucial. The voting public does not like parties that seem divided, and with traditional voting blocs breaking down Labour’s path to a second term should they win is by no means certain. It is going to take more than a fortnightly chat with Sue Gray to keep everything on track.

Labour will be happy that they all but swept up in the recent Mayoral elections. However, Starmer would be foolish if he wasn’t keeping one eye on the road ahead, and he already faces a delicate balance between clipping some wings now to assert his authority or potentially facing deeper trouble down the line.

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