Left-winger Jamie Driscoll has seen off a challenge from the right to be chosen as Labour candidate in the race to be the North of Tyne Mayor. This demonstrates the changing balance of forces in the Labour Party.
Labour’s candidate for the North of Tyne mayoral election later this year will be Jamie Driscoll, a local Momentum activist.
Driscoll defeated the Blairite leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes, who is also chair of the Labour group on the Local Government Association and an NEC member. Driscoll took more than 56.5% of the vote (2514 v 1930) on a 56% turnout.
While Driscoll has been active in the party for almost 30 years, Forbes’ campaign pitched their candidate as being far more politically experienced, as he had been a councillor since 2000. Forbes was also given a free run after two other right-wing candidates withdrew from the contest.
This is a major victory for the left in the North East, with the defeat of a very high profile, nationally-known right-wing candidate. The next step is to campaign for Driscoll to be elected up to polling day on 2nd May.
Driscoll campaigned on a left programme, promoting green energy, housing growth, a ‘people’s bank’, greater transparency, more trade union involvement, and a genuine living wage. (In truth, there is a limit to the scope and powers of the position.)
As a result, Forbes was forced to present a more radical face than he might have preferred. He was even recently photographed alongside Jeremy Corbyn. But his right-wing stance is well-known: Forbes had supported Liz Kendall in 2015 and has overseen millions in cuts locally.
Driscoll won the support of a majority of CLP nominations. In other CLPs, he only lost narrowly. Similarly, he won support from a number of unions, including Unite. In Unsion he lost by a small margin, despite Forbes’ record on the cuts.
The result demonstrates the changed situation inside the Labour Party. On a local level, it is important in revealing the real balance of forces and the strength of the JD4Mayor campaign.
Cuts and crisis
This victory also raises the important question, however, as to what will a left-wing North of Tyne Mayor be able to deliver?
The North of Tyne combined authority was formed after the majority of Labour councils in the north of the region refused to support the formation of a seven-strong combined authority. This was on the grounds that there were insufficient guarantees from the government over post-Brexit funding.
Instead, the three remaining councils – Tory run Northumberland, North Tyneside, and Newcastle – led by Forbes pushed for a deal with the Tory government.
The combined authority will have very little extra money or devolved powers, except in a restricted number of areas such as transport, housing and regeneration, and education, training and skills.
Critics of the new arrangements have suggested that the Tories were perhaps more interested in securing a foothold outside of the rural areas of Northumberland and the leafiest parts of North Tyneside.
Given the huge crisis in local authority funding, it is unlikely that the new body will have the financial means to make a fundamental difference to the dire situation facing working class communities.
This funding crisis was reflected most recently in plans drawn up by Northumberland’s ruling Tory group to slash subsidies for home care charges in rural areas and cut support for disabled residents.
But a left-wing Labour Mayor can play a major role in campaigning against austerity, refusing to implement the cuts, and in explaining the impact of the cuts on working class communities.
Importantly, left-wingers in prominent positions can help in the fight to transform the Labour Party, locally and nationally.
We need to ensure that Labour selects candidates in North Tyneside, Newcastle and in Northumberland who are prepared to take on the Tories and fight for socialist policies at all levels, rather than simply delivering bad news.
This is why we are supporting Jamie Driscoll in his campaign to be elected North of Tyne Mayor.