Hartlepool by-election: All you need to know as Tories receive boost in the polls

4 May 2021, 13:48 | Updated: 4 May 2021, 14:12

Boris Johnson on the campaign trail in Hartlepool
Boris Johnson on the campaign trail in Hartlepool. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Sir Keir Starmer is facing his first major electoral test as Britain heads to the polls on Thursday.

One key test for the Labour leader will be the by-election in Hartlepool, which will be voting for its next MP.

Labour held the seat in 2019 with a majority of 3,595 as the "red wall" across the north crumbled, handing Boris Johnson the keys to No 10.

The by-election will give an indication of whether Sir Keir has been able to reverse the process that has seen his party's heartlands disappear.

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Why is Hartlepool having an election - and why is it significant?

Former Labour MP for Hartlepool, Mike Hill, resigned in March amid sexual harassment allegations.

Dr Paul Williams, who was the MP for Stockton South from 2017 until 2019, is contesting the seat for Labour while Jill Mortimer is running for the Conservative Party.

It comes after the "red wall" took a major hit in the 2019 general election, with some blaming Brexit - a policy strongly backed by local people - and others pointing the finger at then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Hartlepool is under significant threat for Labour in 2021, with bookmakers making the Tories odd-on favourites to secure the seat, a rare feat for a governing party. 

The Tories are polling ahead - why is that?

Since the turn of the year, the polls nationally have consistently shown the Conservatives ahead.

And today, an opinion poll showed the party opening up a double-digit lead in Hartlepool despite a narrowing in the polls over the weekend.

Ahead of Thursday's vote, the Survation poll for ITV put the Conservatives on 50% - 17 points ahead of Labour in a seat it has held since it was created in 1974.

Survation interviewed 517 Hartlepool residents aged 18 and over by telephone between April 23 and 29.

The successful rollout of the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme appears to have given the Tories a significant boost, with Sir Keir facing criticism for his failure to make more of an impact in the polls in recent months.

Even recent accusations of Tory "sleaze" and reports that the PM said he'd rather "let the bodies pile high" than have a third coronavirus lockdown appear not be having as significant an impact as Labour might hope.

The party is still suffering the effects of the devastating election defeat in 2019 and Sir Keir, who has visited the constituency three times in the course of the by-election, has acknowledged it has a "mountain to climb" if it is to get back to a position where it can regain power.

What have Starmer and Johnson said?

On the final weekend of campaigning, Sir Keir Starmer said "every vote has to be earned" as he visited Hartlepool.

He insisted he was not concerned Labour would lose out to the Tories.

He declined to say where a loss in Hartlepool would leave him as Labour leader, instead saying: "This is about Hartlepool, it's not about me, we're fighting for every vote."

Sir Keir has accused the Conservatives of being "hopelessly distracted by sleaze and scandal" in the run-up to the vote.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and Dr Paul Williams, Labour candidate for Hartlepool
Labour leader Keir Starmer and Dr Paul Williams, Labour candidate for Hartlepool. Picture: PA

Reports have suggested Mr Johnson spent as much as £200,000 on the refurbishment of his No 11 living quarters, with the Opposition party calling on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate the Prime Minister's conduct over the flat revamp.

Separate probes by the Electoral Commission, the Cabinet Secretary and independent adviser on ministers' interests Lord Geidt have already been announced.

It has also been claimed that Tory donors were asked to cover childcare costs for the PM’s son, Wilfred.

Sir Keir told LBC on Tuesday Mr Johnson is "not being straight" over who paid for his Downing Street flat refurbishment.

He said: "The answer to the question of who refurbished the flat at Number 10 is known to Boris Johnson."

After reports emerged that the Prime Minister and his fiancee Carrie Symonds had rejected the John Lewis furnishings left in the flat by his predecessor Theresa May, Sir Keir added: "I don't turn my nose up at John Lewis."

Mr Johnson has said the Conservatives face a "tough fight" to win the by-election.

The PM dodged questions over the weekend on whether he was concerned interest in his flat refurbishment or childcare arrangements might affect the vote.

He said: "I have always believed that it was going to be a tough fight and I still believe that is the case."

He added he hoped people would focus on the "massive opportunities" the Tories had brought by delivering on Brexit.

Asked if he was worried he might have a negative effect on the election, Mr Johnson said: "I think that people will focus on the issues that matter to them.

"That is the vaccine rollout, the chances of our economy bouncing back really strongly in the second half of this year, what we are doing to make sure that happens."

List of candidates in Hartlepool (listed alphabetically by surname):

David Bettney, Social Democratic Party

The Incredible Flying Brick, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Hilton Dawson, The North East Party

Gemma Evans, Women's Equality Party

Rachel Sara Featherstone, The Green Party

Adam Gaines, Independent

Andrew Michael Hagon, Liberal Democrat

Steve Jack, Freedom Alliance, No Lockdowns, No Curfews

Chris Killick

Sam Lee, Independent

Claire Martin, Heritage Party

Jill Mortimer, Conservative Party

John Prescott, Reform UK

Thelma Doris Walker, Independent

W. Ralph Ward-Jackson, Independent

Paul Daniel Williams, Labour Party