LIBERAL Democrat hopes in the North-East suffered a heavy blow today (Friday), when a second MP in the region announced he was quitting.
Redcar MP Ian Swales sparked surprise by revealing he would stand down at next year’s general election – after just one term – for “personal reasons”.
In a statement, the 51-year-old father-of-three said: “It has been an honour and a privilege to represent my local area in parliament.
“I am proud of what I have achieved so far, especially my role in saving the steelworks. I will continue to work hard for the area in my remaining time as an MP.”
Mr Swales declined to reveal why he was leaving Westminster. An aide said: “He is not saying any more than that at the moment.”
The decision is a major setback to Nick Clegg’s hopes of retaining a presence in the North-East after next May’s election, as his unpopular party flounders in the opinion polls.
Mr Swales achieved the biggest Lib Dem swing at the 2010 election, adding more than 10,000 votes to unseat Labour’s Vera Baird – amid anger over the mothballing of the Corus steelworks.
That gave him a majority of 5,214, small enough to put Redcar on a list of ‘must win’ Labour targets if Ed Miliband’s party is to win outright next year.
However, Mr Swales had given no indication of an intention to quit, throwing himself into campaigning against business tax avoidance, among other issues, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee.
He has, largely, been a loyal supporter of Mr Clegg, despite voting against tuition fees and attacking the ‘bedroom tax’ – two of the biggest controversies of the parliament.
The decision to quit is a big boost to Labour hopes of winning Redcar – and, potentially, a clean sweep of seats in the south of the region.
However, tonight, Anna Turley, Labour’s candidate paid tribute, saying: “I’m very sorry to hear that the Lib Dem MP for Redcar Ian Swales is standing down at the next election.
“While we had our political and policy disagreements I always found him a decent, hardworking MP with Redcar's best interests at heart. I wish him all the very best.”
The loss of Mr Swales comes hard-on-the-heels of the retirement of Berwick’s Sir Alan Beith – the North-East’s other Lib Dem – who will also stand down next year.
Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg said: “Ian Swales has been an extremely diligent local MP – delivering time and again for the people of Redcar.
“While he will probably be best remembered for his pivotal role in saving the steelworks, Ian has been a tireless campaigner for his area and a hardworking member of the Public Accounts Committee, which very much keeps the Government on its toes.
“The news that Ian is standing down will be greeted with sadness by his colleagues, his constituents and the wider Liberal Democrat party.”