VETERAN Labour MP Frank Cook said he was not surprised at being deselected by his party after more than 24 years.

The Stockton North MP had a majority of only 1,870 when he entered the Commons almost 25 years ago.

He increased that to 21,357 in 1997.

But after a mandatory reselection process, he failed to win the backing of party colleagues, who selected Billingham councillor Alex Cunningham to fight the next General Election.

Last night, Mr Cook, 72, said: "I have been doing this for 24-and-a-half years, but I have been working at it for something nearer 30.

"I would be telling lies if I said I wasn't disappointed, but it is not a surprise.

"However, my priority is to continue concentrating on my job to represent the electorate of Stockton North."

Councillor Cunningham, who represents Billingham East on Stockton Borough Council, and has lived in the area for 30 years, said party activists wanted a change for the next General Election.

He said: "I feel quite elated.

The members in Stockton made it clear over a period of time that they wanted change and also made it clear they wanted a person who lived in the area for most of their life to represent that change. People just want to move things on now.

"First, and foremost, my whole thing was that I would concentrate very much on constituency issues."

Coun Cunningham said he wanted to concentrate on bringing jobs to the area.

He said: "There are real opportunities for bringing highly-skilled jobs into the area. On the health side of things, I have been disappointed over the way some areas have had their new hospitals for some time and our area has not had the same provision, so that is something I think I need to fight for."

Coun Cunningham said one of his ambitions was to do more for children and young people.

But Mr Cook, a former grave digger and Butlins Redcoat, who joined the Labour Party in 1950, has vowed to continue his work.

He said: "I have got a number of projects on the go - some which I have just started and some which are very close to fruition and I want to ensure that they are completed successfully. I have got a lot to work on and I've got about two-and-a-half years in which to work on it."

The seven candidates were barred from speaking during the selection process on Saturday.

Among them was Teesside opera singer Suzannah Clarke, who was a pivotal figure in attracting the BBC's Proms in The Park to the area last year.