One of the region’s top journalists is hoping to swap news for politics – although the careers are not as different as they might at first seem.
Mark Edwardson, (55), is best known for his anchor role at BBC North West Tonight, where he presented the regional news programme live from Salford for 20 years. From speaking to political heavyweights such as Tony Benn and Ken Clarke, he said he gleaned the recipe for a winning campaign – part charm, part can-do attitude – which he said he planned to utilise at the local elections in less than three months’ time.
Mr Edwardson wants to win a seat representing Congleton West at Cheshire East Council, as well as a place on the town council, as an Independent candidate. The Independent group already holds two of the six borough seats available and, in May, will put up the maximum number of candidates with the aim of nabbing the other four seats in Congleton.
The group is adamant it is “a group” rather than “a political party”, the difference being that its representatives are free to disagree with each other in a way that candidates of other political persuasions are not, at least according to Mr Edwardson.
He explained: “We need people who can vote according to their own consensus based on what residents are telling them, not what a party is telling them. I’d be free to vote as I wish, as the other Independents are. We can be more directly accountable to the electorate that way, and we’re not bossed around by someone further up in the party.”
Although he retired from BBC North West in 2021, Mr Edwardson still considers himself a journalist. So, why did he want to go into local politics?
“When I was working in news, I would speak to all sorts of politicians, from the very top to the bottom. Without wishing to sound boastful, I’ve had a good few conversations with prime ministers, like Tony Blair and Boris Johnson, but I also came across a lot of councillors who were, in the main, trying to do their best for their communities.
“When you look at what they do, it’s a difficult job. Of course, there are some charlatans – and I could name some but I’m not going to – but on the whole, they do a good job. They are ordinary people with extraordinary responsibilities.”
He said: “I don’t know whether it’s a sense of duty I feel, but I just want to give something back.”
Mr Edwardson’s postgraduate degree in radio and television in the late 1980s took him into independent radio with jobs in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston.
His first job with the BBC was at Radio Stoke, while his wife worked in Macclesfield. After looking at a map, the pair realised Congleton was in between the two, so decided to move here 30 years ago. Stints at Midlands Today in Birmingham followed, with a later job at BBC Radio Manchester where he presented the breakfast show for five years.
Then came the gig at BBC North West Tonight, during which time he interviewed icons such as Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, as well as a number of the country’s top politicians.
He said: “One of my highlights was speaking to Tony Benn. He always recorded his interviews with a cassette player, and I thought to myself – I’m going to be a part of his library. The big names of journalism like David Frost would already have been in it, and then there’d be little old me!
“I also really enjoyed interviewing Ken Clarke. He was a fantastic interviewee: rambunctious, eloquent, articulate. He’d have a laugh with you one minute and be deadly serious the next.”
Mr Edwardson said he followed today’s politics with a keen eye, but struggled to place himself definitely on the left or right of the political spectrum.
“You’d assume I’d be left of centre because I come from St Helens – and some of my thoughts are left of centre when it comes to social justice, equality and fairness – but I’m not averse to some of the more moderate right-wing politics like a belief in law and order, and an interest in business. I’d call myself a centrist, even though it’s a bit of a dirty word nowadays.”
In May, it will be the matters affecting Congleton that are likely to count the most to voters. One of the main issues is the future of the War Memorial Hospital, on Canal Road, Mr Edwardson believes. He said it has been “consistently run down over recent years” and, with the town’s population growing, now was “not the time to cut back on medical facilities”.
He said another issue was the “uncontrolled development” in Congleton that has been “an open sore” since the Cheshire East unitary authority was formed in 2009. He added: “This town is attracting more than its fair share of new housing, which is entirely the fault of previous Tory administrations.
“I don’t like bashing political parties, but the Conservatives have a whole lot of responsibility to bear for this.”
Finally, he argued that road safety was a problem in Congleton.
He is standing alongside incumbent Independent Coun Suzie Akers Smith in the West Ward, while another Independent councillor, Rob Moreton, will aim to be re-elected in the East Ward.
Mr Edwardson said there were similarities between his old job in the news industry and politics – but it’s not all about appearances.
He explained: “You’ve got to have something about you that people can latch on to.
However, it’s not a popularity contest. You’ve got to be able to get things done as well. I was talking to Couns Akers Smith and Moreton, and they were telling me about their counterparts in the Liberal Democrats and the Tories.
“They said they don’t get any cooperation from them. I think that’s ridiculous. We’re there to make Congleton a better place to live and that attitude seems contradictory to me.”