The current Hartlepool constituency was formed in 1974 and has been held by Labour ever since. Before then it was known as The Hartlepools, which Labour held from 1964. That's an unbroken stretch of 57 years of Labour representation. In just over four week's time that impressive run could be at an end.
Defeat in the big by-election of May 6 could spell disaster for Keir Starmer, but that is exactly what's on the cards. The bookies have got the Tories odds on favourites to win and a new opinion poll has them seven points ahead of Labour. Perhaps the decision to install a staunch Remainer as their candidate has already lost Labour the seat. In 2016 the constituency returned a 70 per cent Leave vote, one of the largest in the country. Three years later the Brexit Party picked up more than 25 per cent in the general election - their second best result across the country. Hartlepool is unarguably Brexit country and it's the destination of those 10,603 Brexit Party voters from 2019 that will decide the outcome of this by-election.
If this election was to follow the pattern of previous elections, most of those voters would return to Labour. However, it is being claimed by Survation pollsters that this time most Brexit voters will actually switch to the Conservatives for the first time, turning their backs on Labour altogether.
Survation poll 29 Mar-3 April
NIP = Northern Independence Party
Ref = Reform UK, previously the Brexit Party
The sample size in this poll was just 502. Intriguingly, the client was the Communication Workers' Union. Not sure how their members would feel about their subs being used to commission opinion polls, but it appears that the CWU has an axe to grind with Keir Starmer. The union was a staunch supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and backed Long-Bailey in last year's leadership election. Other questions in the Survation/CWU poll asked voters whether they supported Corbyn policies such as free broadband and renationalising Royal Mail.
How is this relevant now? It is only relevant if you're trying to undermine the current party leader and that seems to be the motive behind the poll. Dave Ward, the general secretary of the CWU, discussed the poll in an interview with Michael Walker of the far left Novara Media site. Ward claims in the interview that the strategy of his union is to 'unite working class people'. Good luck with that pal. The workers continue to abandon Labour regardless of whether it's Corbyn or Starmer running the show.
We strongly suspect that the left are gearing up for a leadership challenge in the wake of the May elections and defeat in Hartlepool is key to triggering it. However, given that so many of Corbyn's allies either lost their seats or failed to get elected in 2019, they may not have the numbers to launch a challenge.
An unnamed Labour source quoted in the Telegraph on Tuesday suggested that Hartlepool may already be lost: "Labour would have lost Hartlepool in 2019 had it not been for the Brexit Party. In the context of the vaccine bounce, the Conservatives should take this seat".
The candidates for the by-election were confirmed on Thursday afternoon. Here they are in full, followed by the most recent election result. Note that there are no less than three former Labour MPs standing in this election.
2021 by-election candidates
David Bettney (SDP)
Hilton Dawson (North East Party) - Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre 1997-2005
The Incredible Flying Brick (Loony)
Gemma Evans (Women's Equality Party)
Rachael Featherstone (Green)
Adam Gaines (Ind)
Andy Hagon (LDem) - third consecutive time he's stood for Hartlepool
Steve Jack (Freedom Alliance)
Chris Killick (Ind)
Samantha Lee (Ind)
Claire Martin (Heritage)
Jill Mortimer (Con) - North Yorkshire county councillor
John Prescott (Reform) - no, not that John Prescott
Thelma Walker (Northern Independence Party) - Labour MP for Colne Valley 2017-19
W. Ralph Ward-Jackson (Ind)
Paul Williams (Lab) - Labour MP for Stockton South 2017-19
2019 general election
Mike Hill (Lab) 15,464 (37.7%) -14.8%
Stefan Houghton (Con) 11,869 (28.9%) -5.3%
Richard Tice (Brexit) 10,603 (25.8%) New
Andy Hagon (LDem) 1,696 (4.1%) +2.3%
Joe Bousfield (Ind) 911 (2.2%) New
Kevin Cranney (Soc Lab) 494 (1.2%) New