UKIP has set its sights on claiming the Hartlepool constituency after town MP Iain Wright unexpectedly revealed he will not stand in this summer’s general election.
The MP and former minister, who chairs the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, has said he would “like to do other things” with his life and will not be in the running to represent the town in this year’s ballot.
The shock news comes after prime minister Theresa May surprisingly announced a general election will be held on June 8.
Mrs May, who has a fragile working majority of just 17 in the Commons, said she wanted “unity” at Westminster as talks on Brexit begin in earnest with the European Union.
Mr Wright was first elected to represent the town in 2004 and held the seat with a majority of 3,024 at the 2015 general election, with UKIP’s Phillip Broughton finishing second.
In a statement he said: “It has been an enormous privilege to serve my home town in Parliament.
“I have now been an MP for nearly a third of my life.
“I would like to do other things and now is a good opportunity to do so.
“I would like to thank my constituents for giving me the honour of allowing me to be their Member of Parliament since 2004.”
It is understood that Labour bosses will look to unveil a new candidate to run for MP in Hartlepool by early next week, with voters less than two months away from going to the polls.
UKIP councillors in Hartlepool however say they are looking at Mr Wright’s decision not to stand as a boost to their chances.
Coun Tom Hind, who represents Seaton ward in the town, said: “It’s a very good opportunity for UKIP to make headway into a Labour-controlled council and somewhere that has had a Labour MP for a long time.
“We had thought we wouldn’t be getting another chance to get someone elected until 2020, but Mrs May’s decision has now changed that.
“We’re gearing up for the election and we will be ready I’m sure.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was one of those to pay tribute to Mr Wright for his years as an MP.
“I would like to thank Iain Wright for all his hard work as a Labour MP since 2004,” he said.
“In his roles as a constituency MP, a Government minister, a shadow minister and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, he has served the people of Hartlepool, the country and our party with pride and distinction.
“I wish him all the best in the future.”
Mr Wright’s period in charge of the committee has seen him become a leading tormentor of business chiefs including Mike Ashley and Sir Philip Green.
His decision to step down follows that of former home secretary Alan Johnson, who said he would not stand for re-election in Hull West and Hessle, and Tom Blenkinsop, who delivered a parting shot at Mr Corbyn as he announced his decision not to fight Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
Mr Johnson said he would have been in his 70s by the time of the next election in 2022 and it was in the best interests of his family to stand down.
Mr Blenkinsop said he had “significant and irreconcilable differences with the current Labour leadership”.