Gill Morris Communication
Gill Morris Communication

Metro Mayor Profile: Ben Houchen – Tees Valley

by Ross Cathcart on May 12, 2017, posted in Mayoral Election 2017, Tees Valley categories

Biography

At 30 years old, Ben Houchen is the youngest of the six new Metro Mayors. Originally a solicitor by trade, Houchen is now chief executive of BLK UK, an Australian sports brand based in Stockton. He has represented the Yarm and Kirklevington Ward in Stockton Council since 2011, where he is leader of the council’s Conservative Group. He previously unsuccessfully stood in a 2012 parliamentary by-election. He is close friends with James Wharton MP, the only Conservative MP within the Tees Valley Combined Authority area.

Ben Houchen’s priority areas

  • Buy back the loss-making Durham Tees Valley Airport from its commercial owners, Peel, despite the organisation wishing to carry on running services

  • Reorganise and, if necessary, replace Cleveland Police which has faced a series of recent scandals

  • Build ‘a new town’ in the combined authority area to allow for more affordable housing

Analysis

It is customary for politicians to talk up the significance of their victory but when Houchen described his election as Tees Valley metro mayor as a ’political earthquake’, it would be hard to disagree. Four of the Tees Valley’s seven MPs are Labour and in the 2015 General Election the party took 43.3% of the area’s votes compared to the Conservatives’ 29.9%. Why did Labour lose? The failure to build any affinity to the new ‘Tees Valley’ region led to a turnout of just 21.1%, the lowest of the six mayoral elections. Labour simply failed to get its voters to the ballot box. The 60% of voters here who voted leave, many of whom have previously voted UKIP, may have been more impressed by the ‘strong and stable’ leadership for Brexit described by May.

The problems of the campaign will continue to haunt Houchen, and the poor turnout will mean his mandate to be questioned. With some radical, headline-grabbing ideas floated, such as buying Tees Valley Airport from an unwilling owner (Peel), Houchen may have to scale back a bit and learn how to work with the Tees Valley Combined Authority, the rest of the membership being entirely Labour.



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