Why the North East, Tees Valley and York & North Yorkshire mayoral elections are so fascinating

Credit: ITV Tyne Tees / PA Images

The elections for regional mayors for the North East, Tees Valley and York & North Yorkshire on Thursday 2 May are of course vital in their own right.

But they're also fascinating in terms of party politics.

North East Mayor

First, after a long saga, a new combined authority will finally bring together Northumberland, Tyneside, Wearside and County Durham.

And it looks like a Labour versus ex-Labour battle will decide who becomes the first North East Mayor.

Jamie Driscoll was elected for the party as North of Tyne Mayor in 2019, and has served in that role for the last five years.

But he left Labour last year, after he was denied a place on the shortlist for local members to choose their candidate for this new position, in what his supporters claim was a case of factionalism against a politician from the left of the party.

So he's standing as an independent, alongside Conservative candidate Guy Renner-Thompson, Liberal Democrat Dr Aidan King, Paul Donaghy from Reform UK and Andrew Gray for the Green Party.

Labour's candidate is Kim McGuinness, who's been Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner since 2019.

The party's longstanding support in the area, plus a huge lead in national opinion polls, suggest it should be a shoo-in for Labour now.

Anything other than a comfortable victory would be a real blow for Sir Keir Starmer's party, and raise questions about whether they are vulnerable from their left flank, particularly amid dissatisfaction with the leader's position over the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Tees Valley Mayor

Labour are on the offensive though in the Tees Valley, where the existing combined authority is staying in place, with a third election for the mayor.

Conservative Ben Houchen won a shock victory in an old Labour heartland in 2017, then got 73% of the vote in 2021.

He was Boris Johnson's favourite mayor, practising similarly interventionist politics, and the former PM even gave him a seat in the House of Lords.

There has been controversy around the huge 'Teesworks' regeneration project around Redcar's former steelworks site.

A government-commissioned review found no evidence of corruption, but made serious criticisms around governance and transparency.

Speaking to voters in Redcar this week, there was little interest in that issue, with several in fact pointing the finger at Lord Houchen's political rivals for "sour grapes."

The incumbent mayor is pretty well known locally, but is fighting against the national picture, with an unpopular Conservative government.

A recent opinion poll from Redfield & Wilton Strategies put Lord Houchen neck and neck with Labour's Chris McEwan, with Liberal Democrat Simon Thorley a long way back.

The Labour candidate is deputy leader of Darlington Borough Council, and has been given plenty of support in recent weeks, with visits from Starmer, Angela Rayner, Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper and Ed Miliband.

Labour, then, clearly fancy their chances - but defeat for them in the Tees Valley could dent their momentum, and raise questions about whether they're really on course to win back lost 'Red Wall' seats at the general election later in the year.

On the other hand, defeat for high-profile Conservative Lord Houchen would add to pressure on the Prime Minister, with talk even of a challenge to his leadership before that general election.

York & North Yorkshire Mayor

Finally, there's the election in Rishi Sunak's own patch, as the MP for Richmond.

A new mayor will oversee the City of York and North Yorkshire together.

The largely rural county has traditionally been safe Tory territory, but that grip has weakened, with Labour claiming the Selby & Ainsty parliamentary by-election last summer.

The Conservative candidate for mayor is Keane Duncan, a senior North Yorkshire councillor.

His main challenger is likely to be Labour's David Skaith, a former chair of the York High Street Forum.

The other contenders are Liberal Democrat Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, the Green Party's Kevin Foster, and independent candidates Paul Haslam and Keith Tordoff.

Conservative defeat would suggest they are safe just about nowhere, ahead of the general election.

So, the results of these three elections will be some of the country's most revealing, and significant in shaping the direction of national politics over the months ahead, as well as choosing mayors to help shape the region's future.

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