Liam Byrne: Biography
Liam Byrne, Labour’s newly-selected candidate to be West Midlands Metro Mayor is a veteran of the Blair and Brown governments and a longstanding Birmingham MP. He was selected over two leftwing rivals in a bitterly fought contest. He will now run against Conservative candidate and incumbent mayor, Andy Street, in the mayoral election in May, in what is likely to be a much tougher fight.
Byrne has represented Birmingham Hodge Hill in Parliament since 2004 and has served in several ministerial roles under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s administrations. Despite being one of the founders of the centre-left Blairite group Progress, he continues to serve in Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench as Shadow Minister for Digital, and was endorsed by John McDonnell in the mayoral selection campaign. Byrne also chairs the cross-party think-tank, Inclusive Growth, which focuses on progressive economics.
Byrne’s victory in the selection campaign is also symbolic in terms of the future of the Labour Party. Many thought that his main rival was Salma Yaqoob, who had previously been leader of the extreme-left Respect Party, founded by George Galloway, and stood as a candidate against Labour as recently as 2017. Despite widespread criticism over her political history, Yaqoob was supported by almost the entire Corbynista campaign machine, including Momentum, Unite the Union, and high-profile ‘outriders' like Guardian columnist Owen Jones. Her third-place defeat is being hailed by some as a turning point for Labour and a good omen for Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy in the Labour leadership campaigns.
Liam Byrne was born in Warrington and attended a state school in Harlow. He studied at the University of Manchester and received an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. Prior to Parliament, Byrne worked at management consulting firm Accenture and multi-national investment bank Rothschild & Co before co-founding technology start-up eGS Group.
Byrne joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and was politically active, leading the Student Union at the University of Manchester and going on to advise the Labour Party on the restructuring of its headquarters in Millbank between 1996 and 1997 and leading its national business campaign.
He was first elected to Parliament in the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election in 2004, and used his maiden speech in Parliament to pay tribute to set out his priorities to tackle crime and create new jobs in the constituency. After being re-elected in the General Election a year later he was appointed as a junior Health Minister. He went on to hold a number of ministerial positions in the Home Office, where he helped implement the controversial Identity Cards Act 2006, which was repealed in 2010.
Under Gordon Brown, he was promoted to the role of Chief Secretary of the Treasury, from where he authored the now-infamous "I'm afraid there is no money" note to his Liberal Democrat successor in 2010, after Labour lost power. The note, which Byrne’s maintained was a joke he would regret forever, has been referenced repeatedly by Conservative politicians to attack Labour’s financial record in government, which Byrne’s admitted had harmed Labour’s campaign in the 2015 General Election. It may well come back to haunt him again during his mayoral campaign.
Byrne’s politics has evolved since his time in Blair and Brown’s government. His presence on Corbyn’s frontbench and an endorsement from McDonnell suggest that he does have some appeal with the few pragmatists on the hard-left of the party – an appeal that may have won him the mayoral bid. However, the Labour campaigning group Momentum protested at McDonnell’s endorsement, accusing Byrne of supporting “austerity-based politics.”
On his website, Byrne states that he is “one of Westminster’s leading authorities on China” – he co-founded the UK-China Young Leader’s Roundtable and the Economic & Finance Dialogue and is a board member of the Great Britain China Centre.
In Parliament, he has spoken regularly on the climate change crisis, urging the Government to invest in renewable energy such as wind and solar and has been critical of the Government over the lack of housing and school funding in the Midlands and in his own constituency.
After being selected to contest the mayoral elections in May, Byrne said that he would campaign to “make the West Midlands the workshop of a green planet" by pushing for it to become "Britain's first zero carbon city region" and pledged to work to "end the shame of homelessness" with a "green home building revolution.”
He has written several books on development economics, public service reform and progressive politics.
6 February 2020 | Emily MacPherson-Smith