The campaign for Tees Valley Mayor is heating up, with four candidates declared so far and a punchy debate over the Teesworks site. It is easy to forget that another election is on the way this year. On current predictions, Labour looks likely to win back all of the parliamentary seats on Teesside.
As Labour nationally campaigns on the message of ‘getting Britain’s future back’, it begs the question, what could Teesside’s future representation look like? Who are Labour’s potential MPs, and what makes them tick?
Stockton North: Chris McDonald
One of the safer seats for Labour locally is Stockton North, currently the party’s only parliamentary seat on Teesside. With incumbent Alex Cunningham having announced his retirement in November 2021, the party selected its new candidate in March last year: Chris McDonald.
McDonald is CEO of the Materials Processing Institute (MPI), a leading Teesside research centre for advanced manufacturing. His background is in chemical engineering; he began his career at British Steel in the 1990s, before they sponsored him to study chemical engineering at the University of Cambridge. He became a laboratory manager within the research division of Tata Steel in 2008, leading their divestment in 2014 into what would become the MPI. At the MPI, he launched a commercial steel-making arm, the Normanton Steel plant.
If successful in the coming general election, McDonald will clearly be interested in the steel industry and broader industrial policy. The early selection in this seat indicates it is a high target for the party.
Hartlepool: Jonathan Brash
Even earlier than McDonald’s selection was Hartlepool, Labour’s first selection in the Tees Valley in 2022. The constituency is clearly a priority for the party nationally, not least because of the symbolism of regaining a high profile by-election loss to the Conservatives in 2021.
Hartlepool’s Labour members picked local councillor Jonathan Brash as their choice to win back the seat. Brash has been a councillor since 2006 (albeit with a break from 2016-21) and represents Burn Valley ward as well as serving as the opposition Labour Group’s deputy leader. He grew up in the town, and being a ‘local voice’ is his top pledge.
Outside of politics, Brash works as Head of Psychology at the fee-paying Yarm School. He previously taught at Newcastle School For Boys (2013-17). His career in private schools perhaps puts him at odds with Labour’s plan to tax them to the tune of £1.7bn. Nevertheless, his interest in the education sector is clear, and he previously penned an article calling to better fund further education.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland: Luke Myer
Across the water is another local councillor with an education background. Luke Myer was chosen as the candidate for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland towards the end of last year. Labour will be hoping to capitalise on the incumbent, Simon Clarke, getting himself in hot water with his party last month.
Myer is a councillor on Redcar and Cleveland council, representing Longbeck ward, and has served as cabinet member for children. He showed an interest in child poverty in the role, introducing a new strategy. Outside politics he works as a research fellow at the thinktank IPPR, specialising in devolution and economic development. He previously worked as a teacher and for the education standards agency QAA.
Myer’s campaign is emphasising his local roots, having grown up in Brotton in East Cleveland and attended Freebrough school. He has also been criticising his opponent’s close links to Liz Truss, whose mini-budget Myer condemned. Clarke has in turn been attempting to link Myer to Jeremy Corbyn – although Myer’s campaign has been at pains to point out that he was critical of the former leader.
Redcar: Anna Turley
In the neighbouring seat is a familiar name. Labour members in Redcar picked former MP Anna Turley to be their candidate for the next election. Turley represented the seat from 2015-19, serving as a shadow cabinet office minister.
Her time in parliament was dominated by the closure of Redcar steelworks and Brexit, both of which Turley campaigned against. However, there are some indications of her other policy interests. She was a member of the APPG on Endometriosis, having had personal experience. She also showed an interest in animal welfare, introducing a private member’s bill to increase sentences for animal cruelty. The bill later became law in 2021.
After 2019, Turley has remained active on child poverty locally. She set up a charity to distribute books to disadvantaged children, served as chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission from 2022-23, and is a governor for Whale Hill Primary School in Eston.
Darlington: Lola McEvoy
Another experienced candidate is Labour’s choice for Darlington, Lola McEvoy. McEvoy previously stood against Rory Stewart in Penrith in 2017, coming second with an +11.8% swing to Labour. At that election, she highlighted children’s social care as a priority.
McEvoy grew up locally, attending St Augustine’s school and Carmel Technology College. She has lived in London for around fourteen years, moving in 2010 to work as a parliamentary assistant for Darlington MP Jenny Chapman. From 2012-15, she was embedded in target seat Thurrock as a Labour organiser. Her efforts were not successful, with the Labour vote falling at the general election; nevertheless, her training with Citizens UK and the Obama campaign equipped her for further campaign organising roles at the Living Wage Foundation from 2016-19, and at the GMB union since 2019. She has shown a particular interest in issues affecting low-paid women in the workplace, and for NHS workers.
McEvoy is perhaps furthest to the left politically of Labour’s slate in the Tees Valley. She has previously cited Millicent Fawcett, Barbara Castle, Frances O’Grady and Saul Alinsky among her political heroes.
Stockton West: Joe Dancey
Completing the set is Joe Dancey, who was picked as Labour’s candidate for the new Stockton West seat towards the end of last year. Dancey is a communications and public affairs adviser, running the PR firm Endeavour Advisory.
Dancey is well-connected politically. He was previously a special advisor to New Labour “dark lord” Peter Mandelson, and subsequently Baroness Valerie Amos and Lord Sebastian Coe. In the latter role, he helped organise the 2012 London Olympics Games. It is his family connections within the party which are of most interest however; his mother, Mary Dancey, was a Labour councillor in Middlesbrough, and his partner is none other than Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting. Dancey is therefore likely to be a strong ally and defender of Streeting’s proposals for the health and care system if elected.
Dancey’s campaign is playing down his Westminster connections, emphasising instead his background growing up in Eaglescliffe and attending local state schools.
We started with one McDonald, and bookending the list is another. The Middlesbrough constituency, which will be renamed Middlesbrough and Thornaby East, is something of an elephant in the room for Labour. Andy McDonald, MP here since 2012, sits as an independent having been suspended from Labour over comments relating to Gaza which were described as “deeply offensive” by the party.
McDonald was also at the centre of the Teesworks Report furore last month, with supporters of Tory Mayor Ben Houchen demanding he apologise for alleging corruption on the site, and McDonald claiming vindication over the critical report.
It remains to be seen whether McDonald will be re-admitted, or another candidate selected to complete the set.
This is the slate of candidates who will be setting out their stall for Labour in the coming months. Already, they are pledging to bring jobs and investment to Teesside, particularly in green industries.
Whether they will be ‘Britain’s Future’, only the people of Teesside can decide.