Poll of Tees Valley residents suggests mayoral race is currently neck and neck

Left to right: Chris McEwan, Ben Houchen and Simon Thorley
Left to right: Chris McEwan, Ben Houchen and Simon Thorley -Credit:Labour Party, Gareth Lightfoot and Peter Barron Media

The keenly-anticipated Tees Valley Mayoral race is heating up with a recent poll suggesting it's a neck-and-neck contest.

Redfield and Wilton Strategies asked 900 people in the Tees Valley how they would vote tomorrow, with Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen and Labour's Chris McEwan both sharing 47 per cent of the vote. Six per cent of those responding said they would choose Lib Dem candidate Simon Thorley.

The poll also showed 15 per cent of respondents who voted for Lord Houchen last time would now support Cllr McEwan. This suggests a huge swing to Labour compared to 2021 when the incumbent Mayor romped home with 73 per cent of the vote.

When the figures include those who did not know how they would vote (26 per cent), Cllr McEwan and Lord Houchen are still tied with 35 per cent, with Mr Thorley the preferred option for five per cent. Redfield and Wilton also raised the issue of voter familiarity with those in the running.

Despite being Tees Valley Mayor since 2017, Lord Houchen was only ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ familiar to 39 per cent of his electorate, while 47 per cent said they are ‘not at all’ familiar with him. The majority also said they are ‘not at all’ familiar with both Chris McEwan (62 per cent) and Simon Thorley (71 per cent).

The Tees Valley is considered one of the key battlegrounds in the next general election, with Labour ahead in several national polls since the start of 2022. Lord Houchen has been keen to distance himself from national politics, insisting his only loyalty is to people in the region.

"I’m not directed, whipped or told what to do by any political party," he said on social media. "That’s why I’ve consistently tried to put politics aside (even when others have done the opposite) and do what’s best for our community."

Whoever is chosen will represent around 670,000 people across five local authorities - Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool and Darlington - with powers and funding on areas devolved from Government including transport, economic development and regerenation. Cllr McEwan, who is deputy leader of Darlington Council, said his plan involves giving everyone in the Tees Valley a skills and employment review at ages 16, 24 and 50, helping people find work in new and emerging industries.

He also says the current public transport system in the area is "not fit-for- purpose" and his plans include a £2 fare cap and free travel for 16-18 year olds to ensure "all communities are connected to opportunity". Lord Houchen argued those transport commitments are not possible without raising mayoral taxes.

He says his local plan is working and he intends to build on the progress already made, highlighting investment in the public transport network, plans to regenerate town centres, securing the future of the airport and the creation of thousands of jobs at the Freeport and the Treasury in Darlington.

Mr Thorley's campaign centres around tackling poverty and increasing opportunity. He wants to establish an early years support fund providing targeted help to families who need it most, introduce individual learning grants and bring transport under combined authority control while expanding the bus network and making fares cheaper and free for under 18s.

Polling day for the Tees Valley Mayor election is Thursday, May 2, and the count will take place at Thornaby Pavilion Leisure Centre the following day. Following the Elections Act 2022, the Mayor will be elected using the first past the post system for the first time.

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