THE North-East Party, which campaigns for greater devolution to the region, has elected a new leader whose mission is to prise voters away from the traditional parties.

He is 32-year-old Billingham Town Councillor Mark Burdon, a junior manager in the NHS on Teesside who is studying for a politics PhD at Durham University in attitudes towards the NHS.

“People are getting disillusioned with Westminster-based party politics and are looking for an alternative that focuses on the real issues in their lives – and that is us,” he said.

“Every area of the UK faces similar challenges – Wales, Scotland, London – but they all have more control over their own affairs than we do.

“So our overriding interest is in greater regional democracy. It is about having an independent voice standing up for our region, like the SNP in Scotland.

“As the saying goes, the squeaking wheel gets the oil. We in the North-East have not complained. We have always voted Labour and will always get the same result unless we do something different.”

The party was formed in 2014 and is not dissimilar to the Yorkshire Party south of the Tees. It has already had some success at the ballot box. It is particularly strong in the Peterlee area, where it has 20 of the 22 seats on the town council and three seats on Durham County Council.

In the 2017 general election in the Easington constituency, the North-East Party’s candidate came third out of seven, receiving 6.6 per cent of the vote and becoming the first regionalist party in England to retain its deposit.

Mr Burdon is taking over as leader from Mary Cartwright, the deputy mayor of Peterlee.

“We want the region to stand on its own feet but we need the same quality of infrastructure and investment in things like schools and transport that other areas have had,” said Mr Burdon, pointing to free prescriptions and university tuition fees enjoyed by Scots who border onto the North-East.

The party is preparing for a general election and then will target Hartlepool council next year followed by Durham County Council in 2021.