Voters in the Tees Valley became disillusioned with Labour politicians who they felt took them granted after being in power for so long, according to the new independent mayor of Middlesbrough Council.
Andy Preston won 59% of the vote as Labour failed to retain the mayoralty, on a day which left the party without control of any council in the Tees Valley. A surge in support for independent candidates in Middlesbrough saw them take 13 seats from Labour to leave them as the biggest group.
Mr Preston, a former Labour member, told LGC the party had lost the trust of the public after decades of dominance in the region, with a pervading sense that progress was not being made.
He said: “In Middlesbrough and Teesside the public feel they have been taken for granted, that town halls are doing things to them rather than working for them.
“The party system, cronyism and nepotism stifle the ability to deal with the real issues here. It has been more about criticising national government.”
“Being in power for a long time leads to arrogance. It is the same for all organisations, it can be unhealthy, and you get fat and lazy and pick up bad habits.”
Mr Preston also said the line between politicians and officers in Middlesbrough had become blurred, while council publicity operated like a “propaganda machine”.
“For two years there has been a series of hugely positive announcements that when you step away they are mediocre at best and sometimes bloody awful, he added. “It is important to be positive but there is a point when you continue to be positive in the face of contradictory evidence you start to lose the community.”
Mr Preston, who has a background in international finance, also accused Labour of running negative campaigns based on personal attacks and alleged his opponents tried to gain political capital from his wealth.
Theses tactics, Mr Preston, said was part of the “nasty” character in Middlesbrough politics.
“It really turns the public off. It is because [Labour] has dominated for a long time and they are losing that, and they are angry about it.”
Middlesbrough Labour councillor Matthew Storey told LGC the party were not expecting the election results and said independent candidates who “traded on the idea that they are not party politicians” had a “real resonance” with voters.
He added Brexit was a factor during canvassing as Middlesbrough voted heavily to leave the Europeans Union. He said the “consistent ambiguity” of his party nationally on the issue had contributed to Labour’s disappointing results across the country.
However, Mr Preston insisted the reasons for the election results were “far more complex than Brexit” as a loss of support from main political parties was a long-term and international trend.
But he added there is confusion over “what Labour stands for”, with a lot of people who have supported the party in the past “not naturally Corbyn fans”.
Mr Preston said his priorities would be to challenge the police on crime, which he says costs Middlesbrough’s economy £180m a year, attract investment and to change the culture at the council to ensure the public’s voice is heard.
“We are going to become a compassionate and commercial,” he added.