27 March 2021 | UK NEWS

A new MRP Poll released by The Times yesterday morning will be positive reading for the Conservatives, but poor from Reform UK’s perspective.

The poll is for the seat of Hartlepool, which will see a by-election following the resignation of Labour MP Mike Hill. In the 2019 General Election, Mr Hill dropped 14.8 percentage points, with his majority being more than halved. The Tories had increased by 13.3 points in 2017, but dropped a further 5.3 points two-and-a-half years on. Richard Tice stood as the then-Brexit Party’s candidate, and despite suggestions that the seat was one of the most likely to fall to the party; he finished third with 25.8% of the voter share.

There has been a suggestion that Mr Tice will stand again in the by-election, but recent data suggests the Reform Party will be in for an up-hill struggle.

The polling data reads as follows:

Labour – 39% (+1)
Conservative – 36% (+7)
Reform UK – 17% (-9)
Green – 7% (+7)
Liberal Democrats – 3% (-1)

The confirmed candidates so far are Hilton Dawson of the North East Party (previously Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre), Gemma Evans of the Women’s Equality Party, Jill Mortimer (once the Tory candidate in Leeds East in 2019) and Labour’s Paul Williams (who lost his Stockton South seat in 2019).

Dr Williams’ selection has caused a plethora of issues for the Labour Party. Guido Fawkes reported that Dr Williams deleted seven years’ worth of tweets from before his term as an MP in Stockton, including one in March 2011 in which he wrote: “Do you have a favourite Tory MILF? Mind-blowing dinner table conversation.”

Dr Williams withdrew his candidacy for Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner to stand in this by-election. However, critics pointed out that he will be a pro-EU candidate for a constituency that voted around 70% Leave.

Craig Hannaway, a Councillor for Saltburn ward on Redcar and Cleveland Council, told Teesside Live he had applied to be the Labour Party candidate as soon as Mr Hill resigned, but “realised there wasn’t anything to apply for, because they had already decided on Paul Williams”.

Dr Williams was the only name on the shortlist, which several members of the party have criticised. His withdrawal from May’s PCC election led Cllr Hannaway to note that it “gave the impression that Labour isn’t that bothered about how policing is done in Cleveland”. He claims this has resulted in being thrown out of the party, and he will now sit as an independent.

Cllr Hannaway also criticised Labour for trying to control what could be discussed at party meetings. His political career includes a four-year stint as the Council cabinet member for Children’s Services and Education.

When Dr Williams won his seat in Stockton South in 2017, he increased the Labour vote share by 11.5 points, beating Tory incumbent James Wharton by just 888 votes, although Mr Wharton’s vote share did not change. In 2019, his vote share dropped by 7.4 points. In Leeds East, Ms Mortimer increased the Tory vote share by 5.1 points, though she was still 5,531 votes behind then-Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, who fell back 11.6 points.

According to Oddschecker, Labour is still the favourite to win the by-election, though the odds are beginning to drift towards the Tories. Hartlepool has only ever voted for Labour MPs, though the constituency it was created from, The Hartlepools was a swing-seat between the Tories and thethen-Liberal Party until 1945.

It is, of course, the first by-election since the 2019 General Election and the first genuine test as to whether the Tories can further chip away at the so-called Red Wall – or whether Labour can reinforce it.

Gursimran Hans is a student studying Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at City, University of London. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism with Study Abroad from City and Hong Kong Baptist University. He was previously on the overnight news team at The Daily Express and a member of the London Borough of Redbridge’s Fairness Commission.

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