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Local politics must do better for our young people

As young people in the North East, we are faced with a difficult dilemma, writes Erin Gilhespie.

We care about our region.

Many are even eager to create change, especially as local politics feels neglected, a point reflected in the recent North East Combined Authority mayoral election that attracted a turnout of 31 per cent.

Yet, our system is tense and divisive, and young voters are immediately under pressure to purchase ID.

Barriers are in place from the get-go.

It felt as though the May 2 mayoral elections had a lot riding on them.

Could Jamie Driscoll win without the support of the Labour Party? Could Ben Houchen be re-elected again in Tees Valley?

The campaigns we saw across the region felt somewhat ominous as a result, and I know many young people felt alienated by the extreme divide between different parties.



I find such commitment to partisan politics unproductive on our local level.

Not only that, but it actively reinforces to young people that, in order to achieve growth in our region, we are required to adhere to a stagnant carbon-copy of Westminster.

The success of Kim McGuinness, pictured, above, was an opportunity for Sir Keir Starmer to promise he won’t let the North East down.

Likewise, the success of Ben Houchen, pictured, below, was a way for Rishi Sunak to issue warnings to the Labour Party.

Sir Keir even denied Jamie Driscoll the opportunity to run for Labour nomination ahead of the North East Mayoral election, an issue that would’ve been unlikely had Driscoll shown more support for the party leader’s ‘new’ agenda.

I applaud Driscoll’s courage.

As a true leader, he remained visible for his community and secured 28 per cent of the vote as an independent candidate.

Our current system binds us to a Whitehall party leadership, to people who know very little about what’s good for our region.



The leaders we elect in the North East are seen as a small part of Westminster’s game, rather than a foundational part of our community.

How can that be?

This makes it inevitable that our leadership posts are simply seen as a necessary requirement for career progression.

If we are to nurture and retain North East talent, we must stand up for the ability to make our own decisions.

We must not allow Westminster to use our region to create dramatics and noise for their own benefit.

Especially because, after we have served our purpose, they will once again forget about the North East.

I am hopeful for the future of the North East.

I am sure the North East Combined Authority will be successful in creating change for our region – but I urge it to work collaboratively with the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

As a student in Newcastle who hails originally from Teesside, I see first-hand how unnecessary adversarial attitudes can be.

Perhaps we must all take Jamie Driscoll’s advice: listen to young people, value their opinions and stand up for your community – even, or especially, when the Westminster bubble tries to stop you.

The North East has been left behind time and time again.

We must use this opportunity to prioritise unity.

Collaboration is the way forward.


  • Erin Gilhespie is a politics and international relations student at Newcastle University

June 4, 2024

  • Ideas & Observations

Created by North East Times