WITH OBVIOUS PARALLELS to Jeremy Corbyn’s election as party leader in 2015, a down-to-earth, slightly scruffy socialist who has never been in a position of power before, became the first North of Tyne Mayor on the 3rd May.
On a bad couple of days for the Labour in the North East, where the party lost control over Darlington, Hartlepool and Stockton councils and lost twelve councillors in Sunderland, Jamie Driscoll’s victory was a rare bright spot. In the final round of voting, Driscoll secured a comfortable victory, defeating Tory candidate Charlie Hoult by 76,862 votes to 60,089. Despite having the kitchen sink thrown at him during the campaign (there were personal attacks on him ranging from the fact that he homeschooled his kids to the accusation that he’d be a “Momentum stooge”), like Jeremy’s in 2015, the campaign focused resolutely on policy and ideas, backed by a small army of local activists.
In his acceptance speech, Jamie spoke about his pride in being labelled a socialist. The truth is that that he is unlikely to be anybody’s stooge, however. He’s an independently minded politician, who has prided himself in breaking outside of the Labourist box. So many of his key ideas are about democratic participation in the economy, harnessing green technology and generating local wealth. He’s committed to a people’s bank, to radically expanding council house building and has already declared a climate emergency.
He will have a fight on his hands. The budget for the North of Tyne mayor is relatively small (£20 million a year) and he will almost certainly face resistance, not just from the Tory establishment (their defeated candidate, who admitted his admiration for Thatcher during the campaign, has already sourly dubbed his plans “Venezuela on Tyne”), but also from a Labour establishment who had expected a ‘big fish’ politician like Newcastle council leader Nick Forbes for the position.
Jamie Driscoll has five years to deliver a plan for the North of Tyne area similar to the project which has been so successful in Preston. It’s a big deal, because he is now the most prominent Corbynista in power anywhere in the country. But surrounded by a good team, and a wider, organised activist base, anything is possible. Watch this space.
Red Labour and LRC executive