He Won by a Landslide. Why Is He Fighting for His Political Life?

The last time Ben Houchen ran to be mayor of Tees Valley, a struggling, deindustrialized region in northeastern England, he stormed to victory with almost 73 percent of the vote.

Three years on, Mr. Houchen, a Conservative politician, faces a re-election contest in which even a narrow win would do.

As voters in England prepare to vote in Thursday’s local and mayoral elections, the governing Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, are trailing badly in the opinion polls to the opposition Labour Party ahead of a general election expected later this year.

So Mr. Houchen has campaigned on his own achievements, relying on his personal brand as the poster boy for “leveling up” — the Conservatives’ flagship policy of bringing prosperity to disadvantaged regions of England.

But with Britain’s economy stagnating and its health service in crisis, will that be enough to outweigh the backlash facing the broader Conservative Party?

“If Houchen loses, given the profile that he has, and given that in mayoral elections people are more likely to vote for the individual, that would suggest that it is actually his Conservative links that have done for him,” said Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at the Center for Cities, a research institute. “Him losing would be bad news for Rishi Sunak.”

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