Tories set to select mayoral candidate

Police, fire and crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe Picture: LDRS

Thousands of Conservative Party members are set to learn this weekend who will be their candidate to become North Yorkshire and York’s first elected mayor.

About 200 members of Tory associations across the area are set to quiz North Yorkshire Council’s highways and transport boss Keane Duncan, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe and tech entrepreneur Matthew Freckelton at Bridge Inn, Walshford, near Wetherby.

In an event organised by the regional Conservative Party, members will then chose the mayoral candidate by secret ballot. The winner will be announced after the first round of voting, if someone secures more than 50 per cent of the vote.

An elected mayor is set to lead a regional combined authority for more than 800,000 people, covering both North Yorkshire and York, from next May.

The mayor will make key decisions alongside two councillors, from both North Yorkshire and York councils. The combined authority have an additional £18m a year of funding from Government through a mayor’s investment fund.

Some Conservatives remain privately confident that whoever they select they are likely to be voted in to lead the authority, owing to the electorate of traditional Tory stronghold North Yorkshire outnumbering York’s voters, who have tended to vote more for Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, by three to one.

However, other Tories are sounding caution against complacency in the party and say the mayoral poll next May could be a close call, especially if it is treated like a by-election by voters to knock the Government ahead of an expected General Election in October 2024.

Senior party figures are concerned that by the time of the mayoral election next year, voting may reflect the patterns of that in 1997 when New Labour swept to power in Westminster, and there was just a four-point gap between Labour and the Tories across the North Yorkshire and York area.

Ahead of the vote, Conservative members said they were keeping an open mind before hearing how the candidates would respond to key issues, such as housing and transport, and how they intended to interact with the local authorities and MPs.

Some members have 28-year-old journalist Mr Duncan, who served as leader of Ryedale District Council, from May 2019 to February 2021, as the frontrunner in the contest.

However, Mr Freckelton has attracted attention from party members by revealing a list of priorities, such as improving public transport in the county, especially in rural areas.

Meanwhile, after nearly two years as commissioner, Mrs Metcalfe was being viewed by many members as the candidate with the greatest experience to meet the demands of the role.