North Yorkshire mayoral race set to be referendum on Tories' future in region
Sir Keir Starmer’s party picked up its second seat of the eight constituencies in the county last month after winning the Selby by-election, but pollsters and Tory sources last night warned that a stagnant Tory voter base could see further gains.
Tory sources told The Yorkshire Post that Keane Duncan, the 28-year-old Tory candidate for North Yorkshire mayoral race, will be required to fundraise his own campaign, rather relying on funding from the party’s central office, with no guarantees of a war chest for the short campaign leading up to May.
In contrast, Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, has seen over £200,000 sent his way from the central party since 2022 ahead of next year’s mayoral election.
Party figures are increasingly aware of the difficult task that the Conservatives face in the region, with the party set to lose at least 10 seats at the next election even if they were to move level with Labour in the polls, while a 20 point deficit could see them essentially spent as an electoral force in the county.
Following the by-election in Selby last month, Labour’s ambitions in the region are likely now to extend beyond York Outer, one of the few realistic targets in North Yorkshire.
The North Yorkshire mayoralty, expected to coincide with next year’s local elections, will be a key test of the adjusted expectations ahead of the general election, with the party set to choose a candidate by the autumn.
The local elections, which this year saw the Tories lose 1,000 councillors and control of 48 councils, could see the Conservatives become the third largest party in local government behind the Liberal Democrats if it has an equally disastrous outing at the polls.
A Labour source said: “The Selby by-election showed voters in North Yorkshire can see with Keir Starmer a changed Labour Party they are willing to put their trust in.
“There are no no-go areas for Labour today and we’ll be campaigning for another great night in North Yorkshire next May.”
Pollsters have said that the Conservatives’ future in the region relies largely on whether its core vote, of which there is comparatively more in the region than marginal seats in other parts of the region, can be mobilised to turn out and vote for them.
“The problem for the Conservatives, especially thinking about Yorkshire, was that Selby was really such a bad result for them that nothing seems totally implausible going forward,” said Scarlett Maguire, Director at J.L. Partners.
“Labour in Selby didn’t just scrape by, and they shouldn’t have been able to get the result they did.”
She said that Labour could see a success comparable to Ben Houchen’s shock victory on Teesside if it won in North Yorkshire, which also opened up the region for big gains in 2019 for Boris Johnson.
“If you think about Teesside in 2017, that was seen as a massive shock with a Conservative win in what people thought was a Labour stronghold area,” said Ms Maguire.
“The fact Labour won in Selby means it’s not beyond the realms of possibility now.”
“Mayoral election turn-out is really low, which can make it much harder to predict. Normally lower turnout may hurt Labour but given how Conservative voters feel at the moment, for once it may actually help Labour.
“It should still not really be thinkable that Labour win it, but I could see it happening.”
Keane Duncan and the Conservative Party were approached for comment.