|The Brexit Party's Richard Tice, pictured in Hartlepool|
However, not many are convinced that the Brexit Party can win Hartlepool, let alone anywhere else. The local Tory chairman responded to Tice's candidature by saying that the Brexit Party had "effectively handed the seat to Labour". Is he right? He may well be.
While there is no constituency polling information for Hartlepool there was a recent poll conducted for the seat of Great Grimsby. Like Hartlepool, Grimsby is a northern coastal town whose fishing industries have declined over the years, due in no small part to our membership of the EU. Both have returned Labour MPs since the middle of the last century and both voted Leave by huge margins. However, the Survation poll suggested that the Brexit Party would trail both Labour and the Tories by a long way.
Great Grimsby polling intention (Survation, 14-15 Nov)
Con: 44% (+2%)
Lab: 31% (-18%)
Brexit: 17% (New)
Lib Dem: 4% (+1%)
Green: 3% (New)
(increase/decrease based on 2017 result)
If this poll was repeated at the general election a whopping 17% from nowhere would be an otherwise stunning result for any party. However, this is a seat that the Brexit Party would be looking to win, not merely come a strong third. While it could be argued that the party's higher profile campaigning in Hartlepool may swing it for them, it's difficult to see it happening. If you look at Great Grimsby what appears to be happening is that the Labour vote is collapsing and transferring almost entirely to the Brexit Party. The result is potentially a Tory gain with just a small swing.
Let's say that something very similar happens in Hartlepool, but perhaps the Brexit Party takes even more votes off Labour. Imagine that the Tories replicate that tiny swing also. What would happen in that scenario is Labour would hold Hartlepool with a much smaller majority. The Brexit Party would almost certainly finish third, albeit an impressive result for a brand new party.
In summary, the Tory chairman is wrong to blame the Brexit Party if his party doesn't win Hartlepool. Electoral history here suggests the Tories have no right to take this seat anyway. The town has not returned a Conservative MP since 1959, so no-one is really 'handing the seat to Labour' and in any case, the Brexit Party is demolishing the Labour vote - not the Tory vote. Like many other northern, Midland and Welsh seats at this election, a Brexit Party presence may actually help the Tories, not hinder them.
In an ideal world the Tories would have stood down in places like Hartlepool and given the Brexit Party a free run at Labour. Sadly the Conservatives would not entertain a 'Leave Alliance' in the same way that the Lib Dems have arranged a 'Remain Alliance' with the Greens and Plaid. Will this failure ultimately open the door to a Labour/SNP nightmare coalition? We'll soon find out.
Hartlepool candidates 2019
Mike Hill (Lab)
Stefan Houghton (Con)
Richard Tice (Brexit)
Andy Hagon (Lib Dem)
Kevin Cranney (Soc Lab)
Joe Bousfield (Ind)
Hartlepool general election 2017
Mike Hill (Lab) 21,969 (52.5%) +16.9%
Carl Jackson (Con) 14,319 (34.2%) +13.3%
Phillip Broughton (UKIP) 4,801 (11.5) -16.5%
Andy Hagon (Lib Dem) 746 (1.8%) -0.1%