North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll today resigned from the Labour Party and announced plans to run for the new expanded role of North East Mayor next year as an Independent.
His only condition was that he raise £25,000 in campaign funds by the end of August, a sum already easily surpassed on Day 1 with more than 1,500 donations totalling over £40,000 at time of writing.
He plans to continue serving as North of Tyne Mayor as an Independent until the existing Combined Authority covering Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland is abolished next May to be replaced by a new North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA) incorporating the same three councils plus Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham.
Driscoll’s move follows the decision by the Labour Party’s national executive committee to refuse him a place on the list of three from whom the regional party could choose its mayoral candidate. Northumbria Police Commissioner Kim McGuiness was named as the Labour candidate today shortly before Driscoll made his announcement.
Driscoll’s decision appears to throw the race for the mayoralty wide open in what would normally be expected to be a safe position for Labour. Five of the seven councils in the region are controlled by the party, as are 13 of the 19 parliamentary constituencies.
In a letter to Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, posted on his Twitter account, Driscoll says it is with a heavy heart and deep disappointment that he is leaving the Labour Party. “Given you have barred me from running as North East Mayor, despite being incumbent Mayor, I have no other choice.”
He is not, he says, encouraging anyone else to leave the party. But in a devastating attack on Starmer, he writes:
“You have U-turned on so many promises: £28bn to tackle the climate emergency, free school meals, the end of university tuition fees, reversing NHS privatisation; in fact, a list of broken promises too long to repeat in this letter…
“Britain is a mess. Wages have fallen behind inflation. People are struggling to pay mortgages. Knife crime is out of control. Business investment has flat lined. Climate response is barely existent. People with chest pains wait an hour for ambulances. Our transport system is in chaos.
“It is not grown-up politics to say that Britain is broken and then claim that things are now so difficult we will abandon any plan to fix it. That is mental gymnastics worthy of Olympic gold.
“Worst of all,” he writes, “you’ve said you’re not interested in hope and change. Well, I am – Britain needs hope and change. Instead of London Labour HQ barring me from running you could have used my work as a showcase of economic competence.”
After listing what he says are his achievements as North of Tyne Mayor, Driscoll goes on:
“I think I have shown that hope and change is not only possible – but that it’s a pragmatic common sense response to the challenges of our time. This is not a time for faint hearts. It is a time for bravery. Shy bairns get nowt”. He adds:
“We need a new settlement. I value patriotism – and believe it is expressed by public service. My Dad drove a tank in the army, my brother served in the navy at the time of the Falklands. My politics are simple – I believe that Britain should be run in the interests of the people who do the work. That includes those unable to work and those retired from a lifetime of work. It’s not left wing. It’s not right wing. It’s common sense.”
Finally, Driscoll says the groundswell of support he has received has been humbling – from business leaders, trade union leaders, charity workers and elected members of every party who have encouraged him to run as an Independent “because the North East needs an autonomous voice that’s not in hock to Westminster party HQs.”
The letter is signed “In candour.”
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