Reaction as Labour's Kim McGuinness wins historic North East Mayoral Election

Labour’s Kim McGuinness has won the race to become the first mayor of the North East.

She secured a majority of almost 60,000 to emerge victorious in the historic mayoral election, holding off a challenge from independent Jamie Driscoll.

Polling released last weekend had suggested that the Labour candidate and Mr Driscoll, who quit the Labour Party last year and had hopes of causing a major upset, were neck and neck in the race to become the region’s new political figurehead. But she ultimately secured a comfortable margin of victory with over 41% of the vote, on a 30.9% turnout.

The 38-year-old, a former councillor in Newcastle and current Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said the election marked a “really big moment for the North East as we take the first step to taking control of our own future”. She pledged to turn the North East into the “real home of opportunity” with new jobs in green industries and major public transport overhaul, including bringing privatised bus services back under public control, and has also made combating the region’s child poverty crisis a top priority.

After her win was announced in Sunderland, Ms McGuinness told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “We want to talk about this place with positivity, get our region out there on the international stage and really solve the problems that we have here at home. This is a big day for us – we are taking power back from Westminster and I think people have seen that I have a plan, that Labour have a plan, and I am really proud of that.”

She added: “I have stood saying that we will create thousands of jobs from the foundations up, we will fix our broken transport system, we are going to tackle the child poverty that blights too many communities and ruins too many lives. And we are going to go out there and put this brilliant region on a national and international stage. This is an amazing place but it is our job to make it even better.”

The contest between Ms McGuinness and Mr Driscoll has been a source of intrigue since he quit Labour last year, after being blocked from standing against her in the party’s election process for the mayoral candidacy amid a row over an appearance he made on stage with film director Ken Loach. The sitting North of Tyne mayor, whose post will now be abolished to make way for the larger mayoralty, successfully put together a campaign warchest of well over £150,000 secured through a huge online donations drive.

Kim McGuinness after being declared the first mayor of the North East
Kim McGuinness after being declared the first mayor of the North East -Credit:North News & Pictures Ltd nort

While suggestions that he and the Labour candidate were in a dead heat proved to be wide of the mark, Mr Driscoll told the LDRS that he took pride in a campaign that saw him claim 28% of the vote – and has hinted that he wants to run again for the North East mayoral role in four years’ time. He said: “The story that is not going to get reported is that an independent without any Westminster machine has come a thundering second. I believe Britain should be run in the interest of the people who do the work and I would love for the Labour Party to be in that place – sadly it is not.

“What we are going to see later this year is a Labour government that is backing a two-child benefit cap, that has broken its promise to reopen the Leamside Line, and that might even let our councils go bust. I am going to be one of the people pushing to hold that government to account. We have built a terrific network now, we have more activists out than Labour did, because people are unhappy with Westminster politics.”

Tory Guy Renner-Thompson finished third, ahead of Reform’s Paul Donaghy, and blamed his party’s national picture for a disappointing result. The Bamburgh councillor said: “The campaign has been really positive. We have got our message out across the region. I think our issues are down to the national picture. We have seen from the Blackpool by-election that Conservative voters are staying home.

“We need to drive home our message and get people behind Rishi Sunak. Kim and I have a very good relationship, she only lives about 20 miles down the road. I look forward to working with her.”

Mr Donaghy, meanwhile, said his party was now “ready and raring to go” for a general election in which he believes “only Labour or Reform” can win seats in the North East. Liberal Democrat Aidan King finished with 5.7% of the vote and Andrew Gray of the Green Party polled 3.9%.

The full result of the North East mayoral election was:

  • Paul Donaghy (REF) – 41,147 (9.2%)

  • Jamie Driscoll (IND) – 126,652 (28.2%)

  • Andrew Gray (G) – 17,631 (3.9%)

  • Aidan King (LD) – 25,485 (5.7%)

  • Kim McGuinness (LAB) – 185,051 (41.3%)

  • Guy Renner-Thompson (CON) – 52,446 (11.7%)

The new mayor will head a North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA) that covers a population of around two million people, spread across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham. This is the first time that a mayor has been elected to cover that whole region, after previous proposals for a devolution deal for the North East fell apart in 2016 and led the three councils north of the Tyne to break away.

More than £6bn worth of Government investment has already been confirmed through the 30-year devolution deal, including more than £2bn to put into improving the region’s transport infrastructure. Another key transport power that has been the subject of much discussion is the ability to bring bus services under public control through a franchising scheme, a version of which has been implemented in Greater Manchester by mayor Andy Burnham.

The devolution deal also includes a mayoral investment fund of £1.4bn, or £48m a year, to support economic growth and regeneration.

Local council leaders also recently signed a new "trailblazer" add-on to the devolution deal, following Greater Manchester and the West Midlands in securing deeper powers. That included money to deliver an £25m investment into the redevelopment of the Sunderland Riverside, enabling the building of the much-heralded Crown Works film and TV studios.

The mayor and the new combined authority do not replace local councils and do not assume responsibility for their functions – things like social care, planning, bin collections, parks and libraries.