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Labour’s ‘Punishment’ of Jamie Driscoll May Hand Him Victory in the North-East

Voters in Newcastle said they planned to shun Labour for their treatment of Jamie Driscoll who is running as an independent and was hopeful of victory

Jamie Driscoll has run an insurgent campaign for the new North of Tyne Mayor role. Photo: Neil Terry Photography

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Anger and apathy defined what could be a bruising day for Labour in its traditional north-east stronghold.

With Conservative ratings at rock-bottom across the rest of the country, Labour may have had reason to be hopeful of a stroll to victory in the region’s inaugural mayoral contest.

But as polls opened on Thursday morning, the party found itself on shaky ground, with independent challenger Jamie Driscoll hailing a “people-powered political earthquake”, which has reportedly left him neck-and-neck with the official candidate of his former party.

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Driscoll, the incumbent North of Tyne Mayor – the rump authority formed when four of the north-east’s seven local authorities rejected a previous devolution deal – was barred from Labour’s selection process to head the revamped body, which will now take in the entire region from the Tees to the Tweed, after he shared a platform with filmmaker Ken Loach.

Labour opted to endorse Kim McGuinness, a former Newcastle city councillor and current Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

But in Driscoll’s Newcastle base at least, there were plenty of voters who said they planned to shun the party in the mayoral contest over the handling of the row.

Liz O’Donnell, in the city’s leafy Gosforth, said Driscoll had been “shamefully treated by the Labour Party”.

She added: “I haven’t voted for the Labour candidate for that reason. I think he has been an excellent North of Tyne Mayor, Kim McGuinness has been a bit of a shadow figure and I feel we need someone who will stand up for the region.”

Alex Slack, right, with wife Ciara and dog Ruby at the polling station. Photo: James Harrison

Just down the road in South Gosforth, the same sentiment was echoed by Alex Slack, who headed to vote with wife Ciara and dog Ruby, declaring an “amazing” devolution deal had been “marred by the politics and Labour’s treatment of Jamie Driscoll”.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Wendy Taylor, a consultant at the nearby Freeman Hospital, summed up the contest as it stood, saying: “A lot of people thought Jamie Driscoll didn’t have a chance… but that looks different now.”


PCC Who? 

While there has been plenty of interest in whether or not McGuinness will fall flat, especially given the campaign cash lavished on front page adverts in the local press, less thought has been given to who will replace her as one of the region’s three PCCs.

Northumbria had a strong start to the PCC regime with the election of Dame Vera Baird, a former Labour MP who came to prominence in the 1980s, defending striker miners who clashed with police at the Battle of Orgreave, in South Yorkshire.

But voters have been less impressed with the list of candidates this time around.

Imogen Mould, who graduated from Newcastle University last year, voting in Gateshead, on the south bank of the Tyne, admitted she “didn’t really know who the PCC candidates were” before polling day, except that “the Labour candidate for mayor used to be the PCC”.

She added: “I’ve found it hard to find information about different candidates’ policies, especially for the PCC contest. I just want to know what they’re going to do.”

Emily Robb and Charlotte Hick, right, at St. Hilda’s Church, Jesmond, polling station. Photo: James Harrison

Students were also disappointed not to know more about the PCC election.

Emily Rob, a politics student at Newcastle University, admitted that she was “a bit confused when it came to the PCC election”.

“I’ve not had much campaigning come my way about it,” she said, “but as a student it affects you, because you go out a lot and you want to know what they [the police and PCC] are doing. We had more stuff about the mayoral election come through.”


No Love for Voter ID 

Many voters also had their first experience of mandatory voter ID. Voter Liz O’Donnell told Byline Times: “I think it [voter ID rules] is politically motivated by the Government, because they know many people who might not vote for them might not have the right ID. 

“There were hardly any cases of electoral fraud picked up, it’s just an obstacle to people voting.”

Liz O’Donnell believes making voter ID mandatory is a “politically motivated” decision by the Government. Photo: James Harrison

Jess Hepburn added she didn’t agree with the policy, saying: “I think it would make sense if there was a Government enforced ID, like other countries have.”

“I don’t understand why it was necessary, certainly in areas like this – was there a lot of fraud? It’s not something I’m aware of,” Sue Shilling added.

Levi Croom, 26 said voter ID “leaves a bad taste in the mouth” through excluding people who lack the right identification.

Byline Times needs your help to investigate disinformation and electoral exclusion as we head towards the 2024 General Election.

We’re asking for your help to keep track of dodgy campaigning this election, so if you spot anything that bears investigation, please email us at votewatch24@bylinetimes.com.


Southern Weak Spot

Meanwhile, Jamie Discoll’s apparent surge in the polls – the latest putting him roughly neck-and-neck with Labour – has at least partly been driven by an active grassroots operation, with activists continuing to canvas in the city centre – particularly near Haymarket Metro Station, close to two university campuses and Newcastle’s main shopping street. Campaigners for other candidates were less evident.

But campaigning has taken different shapes in other areas. Driscoll is much less known south of the Tyne and such was the confidence in Sunderland, activists had reportedly been ferried down to Bishop Auckland, in the south of County Durham, to help shore up McGuinness’s chances.

Regaining Bishop Auckland is understood to be a key target for Labour at the next general election, particularly following news incumbent Conservative MP Dehenna Davison, who helped chisel the seat out of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in 2019, is due to step down.

“Jamie Driscoll doesn’t mean anything to anyone here,” said Phil Tye, chairman of Sunderland City Council’s Labour Group.

But Antony Mullen, leader of Sunderland’s embattled Conservatives, painted a different picture of local politics: “The local elections are demonstrating the gravitational pull of Jamie Driscoll’s radicalism and Reform’s radical right position.

“The only posters in windows that I’ve seen this year are Driscoll’s – and that is exclusively south of the Tyne.

“The centre of politics has created a state of apathy that is causing people to stay at home, particularly Conservatives.”

Meanwhile, in Heworth, just along the river from Gateshead, automotive industry worker Lee Scorey echoed the views which have scared the Conservatives, and which Labour thought they had finally left behind.

“At the moment, there’s no one worth voting for – Reform UK is the only way forward, the others are just a waste of space,” he said. “There’s no way I would ever vote Labour for anything, I can’t trust them on anything. It’s time for a change.”


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