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.