Exclusive interview: Jamie Driscoll on winning over Tories in the North East mayoral election race

'I think the electorate is far more sophisticated than people in politics give them credit for'

Jamie Driscoll indepdent north-east mayor election

The independent candidate in the North East mayoral elections says he’s winning over unlikely voters and raising a significant campaign war chest as he bids to beat Labour in May. 

In what he called a two-horse race, Jamie Driscoll is hoping to win as an independent, after being barred from standing as a Labour Party candidate over his appearance with film director Ken Loach.

Financially his campaign is doing well. Driscoll believed he’d raised more and gained more supporters than he ever would have if he’d had been running under Labour, having drummed up around 6,400 small donations. 

Most recently Jamie Driscoll gained endorsement from the RMT union who announced a £10,000 donation to his campaign. Always on the left of Labour when in the party and quick to call out Keir Starmer on his policy U-turns, Driscoll said he had also received many endorsements from former Conservative voters during his 2024 campaign. 

“Loads of Tories said they’ll vote for me,” Driscoll told LFF. “They’re saying, ‘I’m going to vote for Jamie, I don’t agree with his trade union thing, but actually he hasn’t put up council tax, and he’s done a good job’.”

Having been the mayor of North of Tyne since 2019, Driscoll said during his five years as mayor he has not raised council taxs, while he was also influential in pushing through a “historic” devolution deal for the north-east of England, worth £4.2bn for a region of 2 million people, seeing new powers over transport, education, skills, housing and regeneration.

“I promised I would try and unite the region, because the North at the time was massively underpowered compared to other city regions. The power to do something about that is why I’m running for mayor.”

He added: “30 years ago, I was at university and wrote a paper on integrated public transport. Now, I’ve negotiated the deal, I’ve been given the chance to do something about it.” 

Key to Driscoll’s mayoral pledges is transport as he hopes to create a Total Transport Network bringing buses back under public control and providing free public transport for 18 year-olds and under, which he is adamant he can achieve. 

If he wins the mayoral election, he hopes to prove to the electorate and other politicians that people “vote for sensible policies” over “positioning” and to make the case for a social democratic future. 

“They can say, ‘hang on, people voted for that and now he’s doing it, maybe there’s a way, maybe we don’t have to go for this race to the bottom, who can be the nastiest’. A better world is possible.”

Based on the support he’s received so far, Driscoll thought he’d “be walking it by now” if it wasn’t for the newly introduced First Past The Post voting system, meaning the North East mayoral election will be a tight race ahead of May 2.

His late start as a politician, not until the age of 48, has benefited Driscoll mainly in that it has allowed him not to define himself by his political career and to understand the electorate, he said, and also from utilising skills from his previous jobs as an engineer and martial arts coach.

“I think everybody would do a lot better if they just respected the electorate and told the truth,” Driscoll stressed. “It’s certainly working for me. 

“If you’re asking me about stuff I believe in, I’ll give you an answer, but when it comes to doing the job, I’ll do my job. People respect that kind of honesty, and I think the electorate is far more sophisticated than people in politics give them credit for.”

Driscoll emphasised that ultimately he’s not running in order to prove a political point, but “because the North East needs it”. 

He mentioned a meeting he attended in Shildon recently, a town hit by de-industrialisation and decline

“I was there at the weekend chatting to people and someone came up to me afterward and said, ‘no one ever comes and talks to people here, not only that, you answered all their questions, and you didn’t patronize them, you gave them detailed answers and you trusted them to understand it’. I think that goes a long way.”

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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