By David Wibberley

A recent poll has suggested that Sir Kier Starmer and his Labour party are on course for an “absolutely catastrophic” result in the Hartlepool by-election next month with the Tories ahead by a clear margin.

When campaigning recommenced for the Hartlepool by-election after its suspension following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, The Observer noted that: “MPs returning from the north-east said it had been like a convention of the parliamentary party in the town”.

In an attempt to prevent an embarrassing defeat, 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”.

Sir Kier Starmer fighting to keep Hartlepool red.

Sir Keir knows he is facing a potential disaster in the first major ballot box test of his leadership with the polls suggesting that another keystone in Labour’s “Red Wall” will turn blue in next month’s by-election.

The by-election 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.  Mr Hill has denied the allegations, but the row could help steer the result towards a major loss for his party. Labour has held Hartlepool since the seat was created back in 1974.

The significance of the Hartlepool by-election is obvious to Mr Starmer and a defeat would compound unease among Starmer’s MPs, many of whom are concerned that his leadership is stalling.

Dr Paul Williams, Labour’s candidate in the by-election, said he believed a Labour victory was still possible despite the disappointing poll.  He said: “Obviously you prefer to be ahead in polls but actually it showed that of the 502 people interviewed, 200 hadn’t decided who to vote for”.

Last month Mr Williams faced criticism was forced to apologise for “inappropriate” comments he made on social media in 2011 after an historic tweet emerged.

Campaigning to become the first Conservative MP for Hartlepool since the seat was created in 1974 is Jill Mortimer. A farmer and councillor in North Yorkshire, Ms Mortimer ran unsuccessfully for parliament in Leeds East in 2019.  Ms Mortimer said helping Hartlepool “to bounce back and thrive” after the pandemic would be “at the heart” of her campaign.

The Mirror asked whether Hartlepool is somewhere she spends a lot of time, she admitted it was not. She said: “It hasn’t been up until now, but it will be”.

A new political party was also intending to run in the Hartlepool election. The Northern Independence Party (NIP) who wants to make the North of England an independent state under the name Northumbria, with borders based on the historic region, intended to field Thelma Walker, an ex-teacher, and former Labour MP for Colne Valley.

THE NIP did not get registration from the Electoral Commission in time, so Ms Walker will run as an Independent with NIP endorsement.

In another turn of events, it has been revealed that one of the candidates in the by-election is a registered sex offender. Christopher Killick, who is standing as an Independent, was sentenced for voyeurism last year for filming a naked woman in a hotel room while she was unconscious. 41-year-old Mr Killick from north west London was ordered to pay his victim £5,000 in compensation and put on the Sexual Offenders Register until 2025.

If the conservatives win in Hartlepool it will be only the third time in 50 years a governing party has gained a seat at a by-election.

The full list of candidates for the Hartlepool by-election on 6th May are:

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 schoolteacher 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 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, ex-teacher, and former Labour MP for Colne Valley from 2017 to 2019.

Monster Raving Loony – Nick “The Incredible Flying Brick” Delves, who has previously stood (unsuccessfully) in ten parliamentary elections around the country.