Dozens of Labor MPs and shadow ministers have flocked to Hartlepool ahead of the city’s crucial by-election, as Keir Starmer’s party desperately tries to defend its traditional northern stronghold against the Tories.
With the number of activists limited by the Covid-19 measures, a series of high-profile Labor names, led by Starmer himself, have surrendered – a sign of the party’s determination to prevent what would be seen as a reversal damaging if the Conservatives were to take hold on May 6.
The campaign was put on hold the weekend after Prince Philip’s death, but MPs returning from the northeast said it had been like a parliamentary party convention in the city. “Activists can only come during day visits,” said one MP. “Normally we have a large presence of activists here. Instead, it is MPs who can come and spend the night in hotels or guesthouses, open to essential workers. “
Labor has held the city since 1964, but their share of the vote has plummeted in recent years to leave a majority of just over 3,500. The Brexit Party won 26% of the vote in the last election, which de many Labor insiders, allowed their party to retain the Tory seat. However, with Brexit on the agenda, a senior Labor source said Labor would do ‘very well’ to hold on this time.
While many saw the contest as a test for Labor in the so-called ‘red wall’ of post-industrial seats it lost to the Tories, the city’s economy has evolved. Although jobs in industry and manufacturing still exist at Hartlepool, more than half of its employees now work in white collar jobs, as managers, directors, in professional services, administration and trades. specialized.
Despite speculations to be a struggling town, it was ‘far from’ in decline, said Laura Turner, an optometrist who left North Yorkshire six years ago and was in line at a Costa cafe. Coffee. “In the south, I think people see us as an old fashioned and old fashioned city, but we’re not really,” she said. “Of course we have poverty, but Hartlepool is not run down compared to a lot of places.”
The Tories are bookmakers’ favorites to win on May 6, and the odds are getting shorter, but few people seem to know which direction it would take. Separate polls have come out in favor of Labor and Tories, and both parties are vulnerable to vote splitting – Tories by Reform UK, formerly the Brexit Party, and Labor by the newly formed Independence Party of the North, which targets Labor voters.
“I’m a strategic voter,” human resources worker Jess said in front of the cafe. “But it could be okay anyway. You never know with Hartlepool, anything can happen. We voted for a monkey after all. “
It wasn’t a figure of speech – in 2002, locals elected Hartlepool United FC mascot H’Angus the Monkey as mayor, Stuart Drummond, the man inside the costume, becoming popular enough to fulfill three mandates. The anti-establishment sentiment and the closeness to the polls are what makes riding time off work so hard to predict.
One of the 69.5% of Hartlepudlians to vote for Brexit in 2016 was Tom Hind, a retired emergency ambulance technician who now volunteers at the marina to restore Watchful, a boat that participated in the evacuation from Dunkirk. “We are old enough to remember what we lost when joining the EU,” he said. “For example, Hartlepool depended a lot on the coal and steel industry and it’s all gone now.”
He didn’t know how he would vote – he didn’t think Boris Johnson had done a bad job, but he found the government’s 1% pay increase for nurses insulting. “I am weighing the options,” he said. “You see some people here would vote for the worst person in the world as long as they were Labor. “
Labor by-election candidate Dr Paul Williams said last week that he believed victory was still possible: “Obviously you’d rather be ahead in the polls, but in fact it showed that of the 502 people they interviewed, 200 had not yet decided [who to vote for] and this is what echoed with us on the doorstep.
Alongside Labor, Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens, there are five independents (including former Labor MP Thelma Walker, who is aligned with the Northern Independence Party), and Nick Delves, aka The Incredible Flying Brick, which ran for office. 11 times for the Monster Raving Loony party.
“There are so many freelancers this time around,” said Kelsey Patton, head of customer service. “I think it’s because Hartlepool is more willing to try his luck on an independent than anywhere else. We are a very unpredictable city and these are very unpredictable times.