Four decades of Liberal Democrat control in Berwick was in jeopardy last night as Sir Alan Beith announced he will step down in 2015.
The Northumberland MP will by then have served 42 years as the constituency MP, and has over that time built up a loyal following among voters.
But with that personal support now out of the equation, the Conservatives are set to make it a key target seat in the bid to hand David Cameron a majority at the next general election.
In the 2010 election Mr Beith won with a 2,690 majority, but his office received many complaints when the Lib Dems entered into coalition Government with the Tories.
With the Lib Dems at a low in the polls because of their involvement in the coalition, the seat will become a core North East battleground.
The Lib Dems will be desperate to hold on to the seat after an erosion of support in the last few years which has seen them lose control of first Newcastle City Council and then Northumberland County Council.
Announcing his decision yesterday, Sir Alan, 70, said: “I intend to continue to be a very active MP over the next two years and look forward to working closely with a candidate for 2015 who will be chosen by all the members of the Berwick constituency’s Liberal Democrat Association.
“This constituency has always been hotly contested between Liberals and Conservatives, but it has been Liberals who have represented it for the majority of the years since the modern seat was created in 1885.
“Liberal Democrat commitments to freedom, fairness, representing local communities and helping people to get on in life fit well with the concerns of people in Northumberland.”
Sir Alan first won the seat in a 1973 by-election and had to defend it twice in general elections the following year.
Leading the praise for the MP last night was party leader Nick Clegg.
The deputy prime minister said: “Sir Alan has been a huge figure in British and both Liberal and Liberal Democrat politics over an astonishing four decades. The present generation of political leaders in Britain were barely out of nursery when Alan Beith was first making his mark on the floor of the House of Commons.
“So it is little wonder that when Sir Alan speaks today, he commands the attention of all parties in Westminster.
“Sir Alan has held and excelled at pretty much every key role in the Liberals and Liberal Democrats, from chief whip to deputy leader and from home affairs spokesman to now chair of both the justice select committee and the liaison committee.
“Speaking personally, I have learned to trust and rely on Alan’s enormous wisdom, and to greatly admire his passionate commitment to his Berwick upon Tweed constituency and to the North East, which shines through in everything he does.”
Ian Jones, chair of the North East Liberal Democrats, added to the praise, saying: “Throughout his four decades serving the people of Berwick, Sir Alan has remained an influential and important figurehead in the region, exemplifying the very best the Liberal Democrats have to offer.
“I am sure he will continue to play a vital role in our region’s politics, not least in working to ensure his fight to secure a stronger economy and a fairer society in Berwick is continued by a new Lib Dem MP in 2015.”
The consituency covers a huge area of the north of the county.
Local businesswoman and A1 campaigner Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who lost to Sir Alan in the last election, has been selected again for the Conservatives.
Yesterday she said: “The election in 2015 will be about getting a better deal for Northumberland and that means we need a strong, energetic voice in Westminster to make things happen.”
County MP wished well as he bows out after 40 years
Voters in Sir Alan Beith’s constituency yesterday paid tribute to his decades of service.
People in Alnwick, home of the Berwick Liberal Democrat’s constituency office, sent their best wishes to Sir Alan as he announced he will not be seeking re-election in 2015, by which time he will have served almost 42 years.
Wilhelm Barren, 78, of Armstrong Place, retired to Alnwick in 1993. He said: “He has been our MP all that time. Like everything else, we all get old. He has been very helpful for the A1.
“Unfortunately it is like one voice crying in the wilderness. I have always voted for him.”
Retired John Murray, who also lives in Alnwick, added: “He has been good for the area and years ago when I was a youngster on a Sunday night, the Salvation Army used to play on the cobbles on the far side of the street and Alan Beith would be playing with them.
“And yet on the Monday he would be in the Houses of Parliament.
“That was his commitment. You do not get many like that.
“He has done a lot of good for this area. Everybody has to retire, I suppose, but it is a shame.”
Maureen Seaton, 41, of Amble, who works at Trotters family bakers in Alnwick, said: “He has tried his best for us, I will give him that. Sometimes he comes up against a brick wall.
“I think I was just a nipper when he first came in.
“I wish him well in his retirement.”
Glynnis Carr, who lives on Alnmouth Road in Alnwick and works at the town’s Oxfam shop, added: “I think he is a very good MP. He is somebody that always listens.
“I think he is a good representative for the area.
“He was pretty good for the A1. He will be a big miss.”