Fact file

Hartlepool by-election polls: the 16 runners and the favourite to win

Labour sends in top guns as party faces losing key seat for first time in almost five decades

Keir Starmer is facing potential disaster in the first major ballot box test of his leadership as latest polls suggest that another keystone in Labour’s “Red Wall” will turn blue in next month’s by-election.

The opposition leader has sent “dozens of Labour MPs and shadow ministers” to the town as the party “tries desperately to defend its traditional northern stronghold from the Tories”, reports The Observer.

Campaigning was suspended over the weekend after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday, but “MPs returning from the north-east said it had been like a convention of the parliamentary party in the town”, says the newspaper.

Why is there a by-election?

The 6 May vote in the constituency of Hartlepool in County Durham was triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Mike Hill, who is due to face an employment tribunal later this year into claims of sexual harassment and victimisation. 

Hill has denied the allegations, but the row threatens to result in a major loss for his party, which has held Hartlepool since the seat was created back in 1974.

The runners
  • Labour - Paul Williams, a GP and former MP for Stockton South from 2017 to 2019
  • Conservative - Jill Mortimer, a farmer who sits on Hambleton District Council
  • Reform UK (previously the Brexit Party) - John Prescott, a self-employed businessman (rather than the former Labour deputy prime minister)
  • Liberal Democrats - Andy Hagon, a school teacher and the party’s candidate in 2017 and 2019
  • Greens - Rachel Featherstone, a university lecturer
  • Social Democratic Party (SDP) - David Bettney, a former soldier and entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry
  • North East - Hilton Dawson, a celebrant and former Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre from 1997 to 2005
  • Women’s Equality - Gemma Evans, a campaigner and abuse survivor
  • Freedom Alliance - Steve Jack
  • Heritage Party - Claire Martin
  • Independent - Adam Gaines, a pub owner who has pledged to give half his MP salary to food banks should he win
  • Independent - Samantha Lee, a former sports journalist who later started her own PR firm
  • Independent - Chris Killick
  • Independent - W. Ralph Ward-Jackson, a businessman and descendant of man who built West Hartlepool
  • Independent - Thelma Walker, former teacher and Labour MP for Colne Valley from 2017 to 2019. She is endorsed by the Northern Independence Party but appears as an independent as the party was not registered by the Electoral Commission in time
  • Monster Raving Loony - Nick “The Incredible Flying Brick” Delves, who has previously stood (unsuccessfully) in ten parliamentary elections around the country
What the polls say
  • In the 2019 general election, Labour picked up 37.7% of the vote in Hartlepool, while the Tories came in second with 28.9%. The Brexit Party was a close third with 25.8%, while the Liberal Democrats trailed with only 4.1%.
  • A poll by Focaldata for The Times last month gave Labour a slim lead of three points, with 39% of the vote to the Conservatives’ 36%. Reform UK, renamed from the Brexit Party in January, was still in third place - but with only 9%.
  • Another poll published last week, by Survation for the Communication Workers Union, put the Tories in the lead by seven points: 49% to 42%. Reform UK’s support collapsed to 1%, with former Labour MP Walker, aligned to the Northern Independence Party, in third place with 2%.
What the bookmakers say

The bookies have shortened their odds on a victory for the Conservatives to as low as 4/6, while Labour’s odds have drifted to 13/10, according to betting aggregator Oddschecker.

Why does it matter?

The latest Survation poll will “compound unease among Starmer’s MPs, many of whom are concerned that his leadership is stalling”, says The Times’ Red Box editor Patrick Maguire.

A Tory win next month would be “just the third time in 50 years a governing party has gained a seat at a by-election”, The Independent reports.

The newspaper warns that the latest poll “should be treated with caution, however, as constituency surveys have a record of being inaccurate, and its sample size of 502 people means it has a reasonable margin of error”.

Stephen Bush at the New Statesman agrees that snap judgements based on the Survation poll are “premature”.

And “any analysis of what the Hartlepool by-election result ‘means’ needs to be taken alongside the local elections that will take place the same day”, he adds. “In Hartlepool that includes elections for the local council and the Tees Valley metro-mayor.”

Bush argues that should Labour clean up in the other elections, it might just mean Starmer chose the wrong candidate in former Stockton South MP Williams, a strong EU supporter now standing in a heavily Eurosceptic constituency.

“That’s not an existential crisis but one that would require a change of approach in the leader’s office,” Bush concludes. 

Williams remained upbeat despite the Survation poll, saying last Thursday: “The issues are all there – the local hospital, jobs, crime – but people haven’t decided which candidate has the solutions. I think what it has done for me is it’s made me want to double my efforts to get my message out there.”

The Daily Mirror also suggests that Starmer will not be wholly to blame if Labour loses.

The seat “would probably have been lost to the Tories in 2019, if the Brexit Party had not stood, taking thousands of votes away from Boris Johnson”, says the newspaper.

So if the Tories - who are benefitting from a “vaccination bounce” in the poll - now claim Hartlepool, it will be a “heavy but unsurprising blow” for the Labour leader.

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