Party conference wrap: (nearly) everyone's a candidate

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, independent North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll, Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley, Liberal Democrat MPs and candidates. Credit: PA/ITV

Making the trip from the North East and North Yorkshire to their respective party conferences in Bournemouth, Manchester and Liverpool were all kinds of candidates.

Most common - those bidding to become Labour MPs, often seen wearing red 'WIN '24' stickers, and heard insisting - to journalists at least - that they're taking nothing for granted.

With a general election expected at some point next year, and the party desperate to win back many traditional 'Red Wall' seats in our region, many of their candidates are already in place.

Most are new names, but they also include hopeful returnee Anna Turley, Redcar MP from 2015 to 2019, fighting the same seat she lost last time.

Those candidates seemed to outnumber current local Labour MPs at their conference - with some, from the left of the party particularly, choosing not to join in the jamboree of Starmerism.

Unsurprisingly given the pattern of the opinion polls, the mood was less upbeat at the Conservative conference in Manchester.

There were fewer fresh candidates around, with the party defending what's likely to have been a high water mark in our region.

There were some new faces, like Roberto Weeden-Sanz, who's hoping to succeed retiree Sir Robert Goodwill as MP for Scarborough and Whitby.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats currently have no MPs in our region, and made clear in Bournemouth that their focus is on targeting traditional Conservative constituencies in the south.

They are optimistic about one seat in our region - Harrogate and Knaresborough.

In my conference interview, the party leader Sir Ed Davey was ready to rattle off the name of the candidate - Tom Gordon - without me trying to trip him up.

While we don't yet know the date of the general election, we do know that there will be important council and mayoral elections on 2 May 2024.

For the first time, a Mayor of York and North Yorkshire will be voted in.

The Conservative candidate is Keane Duncan (once apparently the country's youngest council leader in Ryedale), while other parties are yet to select.

The Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen was busy as ever at conference fringe events, still probably the party's favourite northerner.

He's said he will stand again next May, despite having recently accepted a seat in the House of Lords, and with the inquiry into allegations of corruption at the Teesworks site still to report back.

I understand Labour will confirm who they're putting forward to challenge him next month, with candidate contenders Chris McEwan and Luke Henman taking the chance to press the flesh at conference.

Labour's chosen one to fight the election for the new wider role of North East Mayor is Kim McGuinness.

She appeared on the main stage speaking about her work in her current position as Northumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner, and was again the compere for the northern night reception.

Very much not in attendance at that event - but visiting Liverpool this week, outside the conference confines - was Jamie Driscoll.

He will stand as an independent in that North East mayoral election, having quit the Labour party in July, after he was kept off the party's longlist for the new role.

He's still the North of Tyne Mayor, until the position is superseded in May, and came to do media interviews in the same city where his old party's conference was being held.

When I interviewed Sir Keir Starmer last week, the Labour leader acknowledged he'd taken an active role in candidate selections, despite having often been accused of a heavy-handed approach to exclude those from the left.

Starmer is of course a candidate for the job of running the country, and seems to have had a successful conference season.

He came to no harm from the glitter thrown by a protester, and the way he kept his cool and got on with his speech may well have done him some good in the eyes of many voters.

His rival Rishi Sunak, in his conference speech, referred back to 2015 and his selection as the Conservative candidate for Richmond.

He said: "The people of North Yorkshire were not interested in my colour, but my character. Never let anyone tell you that this is a racist country. It is not. My story is a British story."

In a pretty safe seat, staying on as the local MP will be a small hurdle, in his bigger challenge of staying on in Downing Street.

Many others will be defending their constituencies, while some MPs are working out where they fit after the boundary review, and a lot of members within all the parties are still hoping to be picked for a seat.

We'll get to know many of them much more before the respective elections come around.

It won't be long until the voters get to decide who gets beyond the candidate stage.

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