The losing Labour candidate in the Tees Valley mayoral contest has refused to blame her party’s national leadership for the shock defeat and vowed to work with the new Tory mayor to improve the region’s economy.
In an interview with LGC, Cllr Jeffrey said she was “disappointed” at the result and queried whether Conservative candidate Ben Houchen could deliver on his “populist” policies which included buying back the Durham Tees Valley Airport from private control.
After second preference votes were taken into account, Mr Houchen won with 48,578 votes beating Cllr Jeffrey’s total of 46,400 votes. The turnout was 21.3%.
Cllr Jeffrey, who will still sit on the combined authority as leader of Redcar & Cleveland BC, told LGC: “I’m disappointed from a personal level and a party level. We won three out of the five boroughs and the margin of the victory of the Conservatives was quite small in the scheme of things.
“My job now is to ensure we deliver on the agenda for jobs, skills, infrastructure and need to grow the Tees Valley economy and that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
Cllr Jeffrey put her loss down to “a combination of things”. She said: “The first was the fact the mayoral role was not universally popular in the first instance. There were a lot of people both confused and not entirely behind the idea of an elected mayor and that might’ve been reflected in the way they voted.
“The issue the Conservative [candidate] chose to major on in the campaign were populist and weren’t issues that really matter to people, like jobs and the economy. It will be very interesting to see if he can deliver on any of the things that he said [he would]. We will see about that and the people will judge him on his record as and when he delivers.”
Cllr Jeffrey pointed to comments made in parliament by transport secretary Chris Grayling in March that the Conservatives had “no plans to nationalise regional airports”.
“The Tory transport minister said they won’t be nationalising any airports at all so he’s not in line with the Tory front bench,” said Cllr Jeffrey. “The second thing is, I’m not even aware the airport is for sale. He says he’s had negotiations with Peel [the airport’s owners], well now he’s going to have to tell us exactly what those negotiations are and how he’s going to take that forward. I’m waiting with interest to hear what’s that going to be.”
Cllr Jeffrey refused to blame her party’s leadership for the loss. She said: “The whole thing about devolution is about taking powers back from Westminster and having a strong Tees Valley… Of course the national circumstances influence where we are now, as did the Brexit vote last year, but at the end of the day this was about the Tees Valley and what we do in the Tees Valley.”
When asked if she still backed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Cllr Jeffrey said: “I’m a leader of a Labour authority and of course I will continue to work with the Labour leadership to ensure we get a Labour victory at the general election.”
Despite suffering disappointment at the defeat, Cllr Jeffrey vowed to work with Mr Houchen to improve the region’s economy.
“I will be pragmatic and work with whoever I need to to make that happen – that’s not just the new mayor but business and industry leaders, the people of the Tees Valley, and a whole range of people,” she said. “It’s about seeing the bigger picture and it’s certainly not about trying to undermine the work of the combined authority. The combined authority is a hugely important bit of machinery in the Tees Valley and we need to make it successful regardless of the result today.”