Labour pins Hartlepool hopes on 'robocop' mayor

Labour bosses are hoping to enlist Middlesbrough's "robocop" mayor, Ray Mallon, to help them hold on to the Commons seat left vacant by Peter Mandelson's appointment as an EU commissioner.

Labour bosses are hoping to enlist Middlesbrough's "robocop" mayor, Ray Mallon, to help them hold on to the Commons seat left vacant by Peter Mandelson's appointment as an EU commissioner.

The next step in the wooing of Britain's most prominent non-party politician will be a visit to Teesside by David Blunkett early next month. The Home Secretary will make a point of praising Mr Mallon's record in cutting crime.

Mr Mallon has said that he will remain an independent while he is serving as Middlesbrough's directly elected mayor, but has dropped hints that his next move may be to seek election to the Commons.

One Labour MP said: "We know he wants a seat - not at the next election but at the one after that, in 2009 or whenever it is - and we know he's not going to join anyone but Labour. We're hoping we can get him into Hartlepool to back our candidate." A party spokesman said: "Ray Mallon is an immensely popular figure, so any endorsement from him would be a great help, but we're not aware of any imminent prospect of it happening."

Mr Mallon turned down an informal invitation to be Labour's candidate in the Hartlepool by-election, which will be held this autumn. But last year, during a visit by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, Mr Mallon declared: "I have socialist sympathies - not to the far left, I would say moderate - but I am clearly trying to deliver a Labour manifesto because I believe in it."

He added: "I have an entirely open mind whether I will eventually join a political party - but if I was to join it would clearly be Labour."

A former police superintendent, Mr Mallon was head of crime strategy in Hartlepool, where he introduced the policy of "zero tolerance" that made his name. He was transferred to Middlesbrough CID and resigned from the force to stand for mayor in 2002.

Hartlepool is usually regarded as a safe Labour seat, but recent by-election shocks in Brent East and Leicester South suggest that it could be vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats, who say that their candidate, Jody Dunn, is picking up support despite being from outside the town.

Labour is hoping that its choice of a local councillor, Iain Wright, will persuade Labour voters not to defect.

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