Labour has suffered a devastating blow in what was once its heartland, losing the first ever Tees Valley mayoral election to the Conservatives.
With a general election due in just a month's time, the news could spell disaster for the party, which currently holds all but one of the parliamentary constituencies in the region.
The Tory candidate Ben Houchen won with 48,578 votes, beating Labour's Sue Jeffrey into second place with 46,400.
Jeffrey had been the bookies' odds-on favourite to win the race, but strong Brexit support in the region, combined with a popular pledge by Houchen to use the mayor's budget to take Durham Tees Valley airport back into public ownership, saw voters turn to the Conservatives.
The low turnout of 21.3% is also thought to have contributed to Labour's defeat, with many of the party's voters staying at home.
Areas closest to the airport largely had higher turnout figures, suggesting that Houchen's pledge could have been a big vote winner.
The new role of Tees Valley mayor was part of a £450 million devolution deal that will see more powers transferred to the region from Westminster.
Voters went to the polls on Thursday in five unitary authorities – Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees – in the election, the first of its kind, and the region had been expected to return a Labour mayor.
Aside from Stockton South, which returned a Conservative MP in 2015, all the parliamentary seats up for election in the Tees Valley region on 8 June are held by Labour.
It is likely that the Conservatives will now target the Middlesbrough South and Darlington constituencies, which returned Labour majorities of 2,268 and 3,158 respectively at the last election, with the Tories in second place.
The Conservatives came out of the first round of voting in the mayoral contest with a narrow lead of 481 votes and a 39.4% share of the vote, compared to Labour's 39%.
The second round of voting saw 30-year-old Houchen cement his lead, winning a majority of 2,178 votes.
As well as a national swing from UKIP to Conservative, Houchen is also likely to have benefited in the second round from Liberal Democrat publicity encouraging voters to support anyone but Labour.
It was not all bad news for Labour in the north of England on Thursday – the party swept to victory in both Manchester and Liverpool.
Former Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram was elected in Liverpool with 59% of the vote, with Conservative candidate Tony Caldeira a distant second on 20%.
In Manchester, former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham also secured an easy victory in the first round, with 62% of the vote.
Burnham told BuzzFeed News he was "humbled" and "elated" that the people of Greater Manchester had given him a "real mandate to do the job".
He said it was not immediately clear why the results in Manchester and Liverpool had been so different to Tees Valley, but said he felt confident that presenting "a fresh set of policies that are right for here" had helped him to win in the region.
Burham also cautioned against using today's result as a predictor for the forthcoming general election.
"I don't think we can make a direct read-across," he said. "It gives us a flavour, but we shouldn't read too much into it."
Hannah Al-Othman is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Hannah Al-Othman at email@example.com.
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