Less than half of recent Labor voters in Hartlepool said they would support the party in Thursday’s crucial by-election, according to internal data based on the poll of more than 10,000 people, leading activists to fear a historic victory for the Conservatives.
Labor insiders said polls for his campaign on the ground in the city showed only around 40% of former party supporters pledged to vote for its candidate, Paul Williams.
Such a result would deal a blow to Keir Starmer’s leadership and a decisive victory for the Tories in a seat in north-east England that has elected a Labor MP in every parliamentary election since 1964.
Labor sources said they were in “huge trouble” at Hartlepool and also risk losing control of the Sunderland and Durham councils for the first time in half a century. Voters across England, Scotland and Wales will go to the polls on what has been dubbed ‘Super Thursday’, in the largest set of local and decentralized parliamentary elections since 1973.
Hartlepool is the backdrop for the first by-election since Boris Johnson’s landslide victory in December 2019. It is seen as a key test of Labor’s appeal to its traditional homes, just over a year after Starmer became the leader with the commitment to rebuild the “red wall”.
The mood of some Labor figures in Hartlepool was “rather desperate”, according to sources. Internal data from six weeks of campaigning shows that just over 40% of former party supporters said they would vote for the party again this week. This figure is called a ‘promised rate’ – which people say they will vote for – and is based on the poll of more than 10,000 people in the city, most of whom recently voted for Labor.
“If we knocked on every door and got 40%, we could win, depending on how it divides up. But we only get about 40% of the people we think are Labor, so that’s not great, ”an insider said.
Labor is defending a narrow majority of 3,595 votes in a town it has held since Harold Wilson was in Downing Street nearly 60 years ago. In 2019, its candidate Mike Hill slipped to victory after the Brexit party won 25% of the vote and divided the electorate in favor of leaving. Hill stands up to the allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies.
A generational shift in political allegiances has seen neighboring constituencies fall one by one to the Tories – six in the last general election alone – and post-industrial areas across England now form the basis of the 80’s majority. Johnson’s seats in the Commons.
Williams, a local generalist and former MP for neighboring Stockton South, has sought to convince the Hartlepudlians to give Labor another chance, arguing the party is under new leadership both locally and nationally. He told The Guardian last month his challenge was to get people to trust Labor.
Labor’s ground campaign has been more visible than that of the Tories – Williams appears on billboards and posters throughout the city center – but morale for some full-time activists has been subdued in part because many are released by the party after polling day.
It is understood that around 90 staff members are expected to leave the party after the elections. Most of those who leave have two-year internship contracts, but it’s the clipboard organizers who are essential during election campaigns.
A Labor fixer said around half of Hartlepool’s ground crew were due to leave after Thursday’s votes as a cost-cutting measure. “It’s not good for morale,” she said. “We would have made money at the party conference to pay for these elections, but of course they were canceled. We don’t have the small donors that Corbyn brought in and we don’t have the big donors who [Tony] Blair had. We are trapped between the two worlds.
Labor has said it will not comment on staffing issues or data collection.
The Tories’ hopes of winning the seat were boosted on Tuesday when a new Survation poll gave them a 17-point lead over Labor. However, both sides played down the results, pointing out that it was based on telephone interviews, with just 301 people likely to vote once the undecided ones were ruled out.
The Prime Minister was in Hartlepool for the third time this weekend in an attempt to rally support for his candidate, low-key North Yorkshire farmer Jill Mortimer, who is the bookies favorite.