MIDDLESBROUGH South and East Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop talks to Brian Gleeson about his reasons for not standing at the General Election

PERHAPS the only person in Britain who was not taken by surprise by Theresa May’s shock calling of a snap election was Tom Blenkinsop. Within minutes of Mrs May taking to her podium in Downing Street, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP had issued a statement saying that due to his “significant and irreconcilable differences” with his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, he would not be standing.

“I had a sneaking suspicion she would, and she did, and I had to react,” he says, sitting in the bar at Guisborough Football Club, where he is the president. “I called my office and said I cannot envisage myself as standing as a Labour candidate with Corbyn as leader. They totally understood and said well, you’re going to have to get yourself geared up looking for other employment then.”

Mr Blenkinsop’s withdrawal quickly became a national symbol of Labour’s problems as early polls put them 20 points behind the Conservatives.

“He’s (Corbyn) from the hard left, I’m not,” says Mr Blenkinsop, who worked for a steel union before taking on the traditionally marginal seat in 2010 following the death of the MP Ashok Kumar, as he issues a passionate denunciation of Mr Corbyn’s leadership and calls for the left-wing Momentum movement to be expelled so that the party can move back to the centre ground.

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“There are some policies that I do agree with, but on the big crunches, big significant issues like defence or certain other issues, he doesn’t understand what the wider country requires.

“He has a very North London centric view of the world, which was fine when he was a back bencher. But if you speak to people, say, in Copeland or constituencies including my own, there is a big gulf. There’s a lack of understanding of what it takes to talk to normal voters, who aren’t of any party political persuasion.

“When he denounced the years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he did a disservice to the party. Most of the policies we depend on now are things we actually achieved or did while we were in power.”

He continues: “He’s not on the left of the Labour Party, he’s on the externality of the left outside the Labour Party, and he’s re-introduced people who were kicked out or forcefully removed, including the militant wing. I don’t necessarily think he is the main problem, it’s the people round him, like Seamus Milne, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, who I think are holding the Labour Party and the trade union movement back or destructing or destroying it.”

Mr Blenkinsop would move the party towards the centre ground. “We’ve got to be more pro-business,” he says. “We’ve got to talk to the majority – people who earn, people who run businesses and people who work in the private sector. That is the life blood of the economy. Till you can sell yourself or pitch yourself to those people, you can’t win.”

Once the majority were won over, he argues, the party would then be best positioned to help those at the bottom.

He doesn’t, though, believe that the Labour Party is finished. He says: “Organisations such as Momentum have to be expelled and the real saviour of the party, once they get their backsides in gear, will be the trade union movement, again as they were in the early 1980s when they finally decided they wanted to win an election and wanted to speak to the general public.”

Aged 36, he is now considering his own future outside politics, and it may be back in the unions. He comes from a military family and has recently joined the Army reserve, but he’s most interested in working once more in the steel industry.

“Obviously, we lost Redcar but the story about Redcar is not over and I think there is a very strong possibility that the industry will be revived in a different direction,” he says.

But despite standing down, he said he would be campaigning for Labour in the run-up to the election, particularly for Jenny Chapman in Darlington and Anna Turley in Redcar – “good colleagues who I know work very hard for their areas and deserve another crack”.

And it was because of his belief in the past and the future of Labour that he had resisted the temptation to stand as an independent candidate. “I’m never going to do that,” he says. “It was my privilege to stand for the Labour Party and I’ll never ever undermine the greatest force for change history – which the Labour Party is.”

He concludes: “I regret having to stand down. I didn’t really want to, but it would have been a lie if I stood as a Labour candidate and said to people in the area that I grew up in that I think he’s (Mr Corbyn’s) the best thing since sliced bread, 'cos I don’t.

“Representing the people of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland has been the proudest years of my life. I will do all I can in my time remaining as an MP to champion my constituents and the area that means so much to me, as I have been proud to do over the last seven years.”