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Poll gives Labour commanding lead in Tees Valley mayoral battle

One of the Conservatives’ most high-profile local politicians could be on course to lose his post, as a poll suggests Labour is set to win the Tees Valley mayoralty.

Just 19% of people in Tees Valley said they intended to vote for Ben Houchen, the Conservative incumbent, compared with 45% who backed Labour’s candidate Chris McEwan, according to the poll by Censuswide.

Lord Houchen, who was ennobled in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list and is seeking a third term as mayor, has been hailed by Conservative ministers as a model for metro mayors and an example of what the party can achieve in devolved authorities.

But an investigation into his flagship Teesworks redevelopment scheme found governance failings and a lack of transparency, although it uncovered no evidence to support claims of corruption.

Ben Houchen
Ben Houchen (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Censuswide poll, commissioned by communications agency Yasper, found 38% of people thought Lord Houchen had done an effective job, while 29% thought he had not, but still suggested he was on course to lose the mayoral election on May 2.

A defeat for Lord Houchen would be a significant reversal after he secured re-election in 2021 with almost 73% of the vote.

The same poll found Labour was also due to retain the West Yorkshire mayoralty, despite only 31% thinking incumbent Tracy Brabin had been effective and 16% saying she had delivered on her 2021 election pledges.

Some 41% said they would still vote for Ms Brabin, who is coming to the end of her first term, against just 12% saying they would vote for the Conservative candidate, Arnold Craven.

Julian Pearce, managing director at Yasper, said: “National politicians of various colours continue to tell us that levelling up is a key policy and that devolution is working. In this poll, we look at public perception of whether that is the case.

“Overall, we have seen a high degree of scepticism in the role and it’s telling that the majority of people can’t identify their mayor’s name, even when given a shortlist of options.

“This trend is particularly prevalent among younger voters, with just 9% of under-24s in West Yorkshire correctly identifying that their mayor was Tracy Brabin, and 11% of the same demographic correctly selecting Ben Houchen as Tees Valley mayor.

HS2 project
Labour’s Tracy Brabin (Danny Lawson/PA)

“This is not a definitive verdict on whether levelling up, devolution or, indeed, mayors, are working. But it is a salient reminder as we approach some key elections that public perception needs to be a key consideration for politicians on all sides.”

Only 33% of voters in Tees Valley could identify Lord Houchen as their mayor, while just 28% in West Yorkshire could name Ms Brabin.

In Tees Valley, the poll found 7% of voters said they would support a Reform UK candidate, more than backed the Liberal Democrats or Greens, although 13% said they were undecided.

In West Yorkshire, 8% said they would back the Greens, 7% supported Reform and 6% would vote for the Liberal Democrats, with 18% still to make up their minds.

The poll was carried out during February and surveyed 1,000 voters in Tees Valley and 1,000 in West Yorkshire.

May 2 will also see elections for mayors in London, Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

Voters in the East Midlands, the North East and York and North Yorkshire will go to the polls to elect their own regional mayors for the first time.