WITNESSING the Tory election night gains in Teesside and Durham as part of the so called 'Red Wall' surge two years ago will long linger in the memory of Socialists in the North East.

The sight of blue rosette-wearing Tory candidates acting like a conquering army on Teesside and the Durham coalfields was deeply traumatising.

However, the rampant Tory triumphalism of two years ago is utterly meaningless and misplaced after Boris Johnson's criminally negligent mismanagement of the Covid horror.

His stewardship of the pandemic – whether it has been through his repeated failure to act swiftly to contain the virus, or to provide adequate sick pay to allow workers to self-isolate, or to tackle the law breaking parties at No 10 when everyone else abided by his rules and was separated from their loved ones – has been one of the most grievous failures of any post-war UK government.

Labour never has believed, and never will, that we have a divine right to represent the communities of Teesside and Durham at Westminster, or indeed in any elected capacity.

During the high watermark of Thatcherism in the early 1980s, much of Teesside and parts of Durham were represented by Tory MPs. Teesside constituencies like Langbaurgh, the predecessor to Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, as well as Stockton South, and the now abolished Cleveland and Whitby, all had Tory MPs.

By the same token, Darlington, one of the most high-profile of the 'Red Wall' gains from Labour in the 2019 General Election, was represented by a Tory MP from 1983 to 1992, a certain Michael Fallon.

So, while Labour faces additional battles to win backs seats in communities such as Redcar and Bishop Auckland, having Tory citadels of power in the North East, against the backdrop of a Tory government, with hefty majorities, is not quite the new phenomenon so frequently spun in sections of the media.

Teesside Tory MPs in the 1980s failed to stand up for the region in the face of the deliberate running down and decimation of so much of our heavy industry by the Thatcher government.

That was true even to the very limited point of pushing for mitigation measures, such as additional support for jobs and anti-poverty measures for communities ravaged by the industrial meltdown during that era.

The 'Thatcherite' generation of North East Tories at Westminster, just like the 2019 crop, were content to be mere lobby fodder in House of Commons votes, for the policies of a 'hard right' Prime Minister, with no affinity for our region whatsoever.

Working on Teesside in the 1980s and early 1990s, day-in, and day-out, I saw at first hand the misery and degradation caused by Thatcher's government. Whether it was the victims of miners unfairly sacked simply for standing up for their jobs and communities, or workers blacklisted with the tacit cooperation of ministers due to Thatcher's anti-trade union legislation, North East Tory MPs were nowhere to be seen, when they should have been speaking up for workers on Teesside.

In the two years since the gloating Tory triumphalism of December 12, 2019, there has been a palpable silence from 'Red Wall' North East Tory MPs over their Government's refusal to provide sick pay for workers infected with Covid, or the pernicious and cruel £20 a week cut to Universal Credit.

There are countless reports from charities and aid agencies of families being forced to cut back on heating and eating to meet living costs in the run up to Christmas, with some even forced to replace main meals with breakfast cereal.

Yet in the last two years there are scant examples of Teesside or Durham Tories using their platform at Westminster and political muscle as part of the 'Red Wall' intake to pressure Boris Johnson over the scourge that is in-work poverty.

At the 1997 General Election, Teesside became a Tory-free zone with Labour taking seats in Stockton South and Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East, against the backdrop of Tory sleaze, incompetence and callousness towards the working class.

Labour can once again oust sitting Tory MPs in these constituencies, and many others, by taking them on over their party's miserable failure to deliver for hard-pressed North East families.

On a platform of being a strong voice for the region, and with a plan to eradicate in-work poverty, deliver on employment rights, redistributive taxation, and post-Covid social justice for all, Labour can reclaim the 'Red Wall' brick by brick.

  • Andy McDonald is the Labour MP for Middlesbrough