This election will be the fourth time Ashok Kumar has contested this seat; he took it at the first time of asking in the 1991 by-election following the death of Conservative MP Richard Holt, but he could not stop Conservative Michael Bates taking the seat by just 1,564 votes in 1992. Dr Kumar bounced back in 1997 with a majority above 10,000.
The reason behind the small swings usually generated here lies in the divided nature of the seat. The 39,000 voters in the rural East Cleveland half, which includes the Cleveland hills and the seaside resort of Saltburn, have in the past been largely Conservative, whereas the 31,000 voters in the council estate-dominated South Middlesborough portion are largely dyed in the wool Labour supporters.
The seat is a mix of rural, suburban and coastal areas and its economy is correspondingly diverse; farming and fishing are key industries and the large ICI chemical works at Wilton continues to be a major employer. Significant population centres are to be found at the coastal resort of Saltburn and in the ancient market town of Guisbrough, both inclined to the Conservatives, but the vast majority of the constituency’s electorate remains in the southern suburbs of Middlesbrough.