I’ve had a few days now to reflect on my first foray into elected politics as an independent candidate for North of Tyne mayor. Did I make the right decision to run? Should I have campaigned any differently? And what do I make of the result?
With hindsight on my side, I’m ready to answer those questions and more but I should start by offering my sincere congratulations to the election winner and our new mayor, Jamie Driscoll.
I understood but never accepted the arguments against the new North of Tyne Combined Authority. Nor have I ever believed the mayor would be without the powers to make a real difference to people’s lives.
Jamie has been handed a great opportunity to shape the future of our region and as somebody who lives and works here and with children learning here, I wish him every success. The mayor has his own mandate now but if I can help him or his team with any of the issues I campaigned on, I’m just a phone call away.
I took some persuading to enter the race but once I did, I never regretted the decision for a moment. It was hard work, much more so than I thought it would be and I discovered if as a candidate your every waking moment isn’t consumed by the campaign you’re really not doing it properly.
My campaign was overwhelmingly positive and it was based on a manifesto that was bold yet realistic.
I wanted to create a fairer, greener society underpinned by a stronger economy. I was committed to creating the conditions for business growth which would see more of our people into more and better jobs. I would have established the most comprehensive review of diversity, equality, social mobility and mental health ever undertaken in the UK. We would have smashed the barriers to people achieving their full potential and yes, by the end of my first term in office we would have seen a mental health counsellor in every school.
We had plans for more affordable, sustainable housing, support for first time buyers, improved digital connectivity and the long overdue, game changing investment we need in our public transport. And I would have built on this first stage of devolution in our region to attract more investment, further powers and a wider reach.
Jamie Driscoll is undisputedly the candidate with the mandate but I hope the response to my campaign and manifesto won’t be overlooked.
In just eight weeks and from a standing start our campaign attracted a small army of volunteers. It was backed by people who had previously voted for one of the established parties but had grown disillusioned by politics. We won support from left, right and centre and were endorsed by people across the private, public and voluntary sectors.
We spent a fraction what the main parties spent on their campaigns. And yet we won more than 31,000 first preference votes and a big majority of second preferences. Added together, the first and second preference boxes against my name on the ballot paper attracted more crosses than those for any other candidate.
The issues on which I campaigned matter to people’s lives and the powers at the mayor’s disposal provide the opportunity to deliver fundamental change.
This campaign was always about those issues and while it’s too early for me to know if I will ever run for office again, I will always remain committed to these causes. In the next few weeks, I will meet with many of the people who urged me to run in the first place and with those most closely involved in my campaign. Together, we’ll decide how best to build on what we’ve started.
I’m proud of the campaign and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to it. This is my opportunity to express my thanks.
I’m lucky to work with some hugely talented people at Fusion. The business I created in 2013 is safe in their hands while I continue to champion causes close to my heart. When the campaign started I had no idea so many people would volunteer so much of their own time to craft and help share our message.
From the policy and strategy team, none of whom had ever worked on a political campaign before, to the volunteers who walked miles distributing leaflets, I am forever in your debt, thank you. Everything good about our campaign was down to you, anything that fell short was on me.
Thanks to everyone who voted for me. Most of you, I’ve never even met so to think you put aside party allegiance to lend me your vote is truly humbling. We did not win the election but your vote was counted and will not be ignored.
And I can’t close this chapter without thanking my family for their love, support and belief. Kate was constantly by my side, on my side through the campaign and I couldn’t have done this without her and our three children Emily, Harry and Josephine.
It was a privilege to run for mayor and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. What’s not to love about spending eight weeks travelling across Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland listening and learning, sharing and campaigning? I’m optimistic about the future of our region.
I hope the politicians who represent us will realise the responsibility they’ve been handed and will seize the opportunity before them. We all have an interest in that.