“The government doesn’t even know we exist”

They are both called Andy. That’s about all they have in common. Andy Preston, 56, was handily elected mayor of Middlesbrough (North Yorkshire) under the label “independent”, in 2019. That year, a Conservative wave carried Boris Johnson to power, and Andy McDonald, 64, Labor MP, although re-elected for the third time in his constituency of Middlesbrough, saw his score plunge. There is all the same a point on which the two Andys agree: it will be “very very hard” to go up the slope of the mistrust installed between the British and their politicians.

In Middlesbrough (142,700 inhabitants), voting for Labor has long been as natural as hiring at British Steel or Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), two heavyweights in English industry. One, sometimes nationalized, sometimes privatized, ended up being taken over by the Indian group Tata Steel in 2006; the other is a distant ancestor of AstraZeneca.

But it’s been a long time since they provided any jobs in “Ironopolis”, the “city of steel”, once an essential brick of the red wall, the “red wall” of English industrial cities. These strongholds of Labor have turned more or less blue, the color of the Conservatives, and have shown themselves, in 2016, to be fervent supporters of Brexit. Here, almost two-thirds of the inhabitants voted “ leave », perhaps persuaded to regain their former glory.

New housing in the Boho district of Middlesbrough (UK) and Andy Preston, the town's mayor, on November 17, 2022.

Andy the mayor, a tall sportsman, receives guests in a refurbished building, Fountain Court, not far from the old neo-Gothic town hall. Bay windows, deep armchairs, bar. Mr. Preston is a former financier and businessman. “I left school at 15. It was under Thatcher and my dad said to me, ‘The world is big. You can live where you want, do what you want.” He was a former steel worker who had gone back to school to become a teacher. » Andy Preston believes he owes his 2019 election to running without a label, despite being an active Labor supporter, but also to his professional success, proof of his credibility. He adores Tony Blair, Labor Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007.

Andy the deputy has a small office in a windswept neighborhood; the press officer is ill, the staff invisible. “He didn’t say he was in Labour, after all?” I’ve been there since 1979, I would have known! »quips the lawyer about Andy the mayor, whom he describes as “tory” (” conservative “). With his short white beard, his suit and his tie, Andy McDonald would not have been out of place in the Socialist Hemicycle of the Mitterrand years. He does not forgive Tony Blair for having “broken the social contract” and allowed anti-union legislation to flourish.

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