Voters look for greener grass in 'Red Wall' areas in the North East's local elections

Labour described their win in Middlesbrough as 'beyond expectations'. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Nationally the Conservatives got a hiding, losing more than 1,000 councils seats - but in our region the picture has ended up being a bit more complicated.

The big question at these local elections was whether Labour really are on course to win the next general election - via regaining support they'd lost to the Tories in traditional 'Red Wall' heartlands like the Tees Valley.

The answer appeared to be a pretty strong 'yes' after the overnight counts - with Labour taking a shock victory in the Middlesbrough mayoral contest, and gaining councillors in Hartlepool.

Darlington went well for them too.

But in results later on Friday afternoon, the Conservatives made surprising seat gains of their own - in Stockton and Redcar & Cleveland.

For both main parties, most of their ground was gained from independents, who had performed strongly the last time these council seats were contested in May 2019, when Labour and the Conservatives were in the doldrums of Brexit stalemate.

The most compelling explanation for the main parties' differing fortunes in different parts of the Tees Valley now is the curse of the incumbents, where the grass can look greener with the other side.

Labour made big progress in Darlington, where the Conservatives had been running the council as a minority for the last four years.

And vice-versa: the Tories jumped forward in Stockton, where Labour had been in minority control.

Both main parties did well in Redcar & Cleveland, where Liberal Democrats and independents had been in coalition.

During a brutal cost-of-living crisis, you do expect parties in power to struggle.

On a national level, that’s part of the reason why Keir Starmer is thought likely to make it into Downing Street, and why the Labour leader keeps accusing Rishi Sunak of pretending "everything is fine" and therefore being "out of touch."

For the Prime Minister in turn, so much relies on the economy picking up and people feeling better off - though he will be able to decide his own election date.

For parliamentary and council seats alike, there are also always particular local issues at play.

Labour took control of Middlesbrough, where the council led by independent mayor Andy Preston had faced serious governance issues and a warning of government intervention.

More broadly, the Tees Valley has been given a lot of attention by the government over the last couple of years as part of its 'levelling up' promises.

And ultimately in these local election results Labour did even better, and the Conservatives did much worse, in many other parts of the country.

In what's been described as a realignment of our politics, the modern-day Conservative party may struggle to convince many of their own traditional voters at the next general election, while holding onto the historically recent support of many working-class Brexit supporters in places like the Tees Valley.

That much has not certainly not been guaranteed by these mixed local election results though - and of course the 'Red Wall' label only goes so far, every contest and voter is different.

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