Labour stalwart is to step down

One of the safest parliamentary seats in the country will be up for grabs at the next general election after the incumbent MP announced his retirement.

One of the safest parliamentary seats in the country will be up for grabs at the next general election after the incumbent MP announced his retirement.

Like his political neighbour Tony Blair, Easington's John Cummings has decided not to fight another election battle.

However, in a final act of defiance the 63-year-old has insisted his replacement should be chosen by local constituency members, and not parachuted in by the Labour Party hierarchy.

"The timing of my announcement has some significance because it should give my constituency party the opportunity to select my successor free of external interference," he said.

A last-minute decision to step down would have allowed Labour's governing body, the National Executive Council, to impose their own candidate or draw up a shortlist of suitable prospective MPs.

As the second safest seat in Britain - Mr Cummings secured an 18,636 majority in 2005 or 58.5% of the vote - Easington represents the biggest prize for aspiring Labour politicians almost guaranteeing them a seat in Parliament. But Mr Cummings urged his local party members to be "resolute" against the possible interference from Labour headquarters.

"To hold office requires hard work and commitment. Trust must be earned and maintained. Labour in this constituency enjoys the trust that has given us the responsibility of elected office," he said.

"We must not breach that bond of trust. We must not be complacent. There is a job of work to do and we owe it to the people we represent to get on with the job and deliver new hope for the future of Easington."

Mr Cummings was immediately praised by his fellow MPs with Durham North's Kevan Jones saying he would be a "hard act to follow" while Houghton and Washington West's Fraser Kemp added: "John has served the people of Easington with distinction, commitment and loyalty. He will be sorely missed by everyone in Westminster and the constituency."

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