The little-known Tory candidate’s initial victory in the 2017 mayoral contest was an early indication that Labour’s electoral ‘red wall’ was beginning to crumble.
He has since championed this former Labour stronghold and used his influence to attract new investment and, most recently, freeport status for Teesside, one of the country’s most deprived areas. And that ability to work with the Government, specifically Chancellor Rishi Sunak, was a factor in the gains that the Tories made in the North East in the 2019 election – and then Hartlepool where the party enjoyed an unprecedented 16 per cent swing in its favour in spite of having been in office for 11 years (and, most recently, a tragic year-long Covid pandemic).
This background is even more pertinent on a weekend when the identity of West Yorkshire’s first ever metro mayor will be confirmed. Whoever wins, it is paramount that the winning candidate heeds the advice of CBI director Tony Danker and builds a constructive relationship with the Government if they’re to make the most of their powers, resources and opportunities – and that Ministers, in turn, replicate the support that they have bestowed upon Mr Houchen.
It’s also vital that the new mayor does not allow political distractions to deflect attention from their most important role – a need to sell West Yorkshire to the world in order to attract global investment that is commensurate with the region’s international ambitions and outlook.
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