By Dave Allan
Friday 02 May 2014 10:10:00
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This Saturday could be a vital day in Middlesbrough’s recent history. That’s the view of Andy Preston, who plans to stand as an independent candidate when the town votes for a new mayor next year.

The local businessman and charity leader believes the hustings being held to help choose the Labour Party’s mayoral candidate is a potentially crucial meeting.

Local decision-makers and other Labour Party members will gather behind closed doors to listen to Councillors Tracy Harvey, Dave Budd and Charlie Rooney, the three politicians who are the candidates to stand for Labour in the mayoral election when Ray Mallon stands down.

A final vote to choose Labour’s mayor candidate will take place on May 9. And Mr Preston says he will then be seeking an early meeting with them to share ideas on how to move the town forward.

Mr Preston, who is the only person to have confirmed they will stand at the election, says he hopes Labour can choose a candidate who can help to tackle the issues of Middlesbrough’s future, rather than being stuck in the politics of the past.

“The British Labour Party has a brave history of campaigning for freedom and fairness – and fighting for hardworking people,” said Mr Preston, who is chairman and founder of Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, a charity that has raised more than £600,000 for local causes over the past three years.

“However, these days things are different - politics and economics have changed and Middlesbrough faces new challenges in a complex and very competitive world.

“I can't comment on the candidates but I sincerely hope that the party's selection reflects the urgent needs of Middlesbrough's future and not the old politics of the past.  

“Basically they need to choose a candidate who can perform in the modern world - not someone stuck in 1980s-style party politics.

“An effective mayor needs to be intelligent and brave.  He or she must always be ready to challenge the local political establishment and make sure that professional politicians put the town before themselves or their political party.  

“Most importantly Middlesbrough needs a mayor with experience outside of politics and institutions - someone who has the ability to unite Middlesbrough's strengths and create a better future.

“It has never, ever been more vital for Middlesbrough to have a special and strong mayoral candidate.

“In April alone, the town was branded as shockingly bad for criminal reoffending, secondary schools and youth unemployment.  These frightening problems severely hinder the town's ability to rise above 30 years of economic decline.

“I don't have all the answers to Middlesbrough's complex and chronic challenges but I do have some ideas.  

“That is why, as soon as Labour announce their candidate, I'll be asking to meet the person for a chat. We need to share ideas on how to halt decline and start out on the long road to prosperity.”

Mr Preston, who has himself been a Labour Party member in the past, added: “I have no grudge against Labour or any other political party - they're all capable of good ideas and bad ideas for national challenges.  

“So I sincerely hope that the local Labour party can be a buoyant and energetic force for the benefit of Middlesbrough's future.  

“A good starting point for them is to select a remarkable mayoral candidate who has the skills to help the town face the massive challenges of the future.”

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