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Starmer defends Hartlepool Labour candidate despite 'inappropriate' tweets
22 March 2021, 13:35 | Updated: 22 March 2021, 17:36
Sir Keir Starmer has been forced to defend the Labour Party’s candidate in the Hartlepool by-election over “inappropriate” past tweets and his pro-Brexit stance.
Former MP Dr Paul Williams has been selected as Labour’s candidate after Mike Hill resigned from the Commons amid sexual harassment allegations.
The by-election will be a key test of Sir Keir's leadership as he seeks to defend a seat in the party’s heartlands after so much of it fell to Boris Johnson's Tories in the 2019 election.
During Monday’s Call Keir, the Labour leader was asked about tweets posted by Dr Williams ten years ago, one of which read: "Do you have a favourite Tory MILF? Mind-blowing dinner table conversation."
The Labour leader said: "The moment I was challenged on that I said it's inappropriate, he shouldn't' have done it, it's wrong, he has deleted it and apologised.
"It's inappropriate and I'm not going to shirk from that."
Dr Williams apologised on Friday, saying he "wouldn't dream of making comments like this now".
Starmer says he will support plans to extend Covid lockdown powers
Sir Keir also said Labour would not fight "yesterday's wars" as he defended the Dr Williams’ pro-EU stance.
In Hartlepool almost 70% of people voted Leave, but Dr Williams was an opponent of Brexit and backed a second referendum.
Sir Keir said: "We have left the EU, neither Paul nor I are suggesting a people's vote, we have left the EU, we have got a deal, we have got to make it work and we don't want to rejoin.
"That's the position of the Labour Party.
"We can't go on fighting yesterday's wars. The referendum was five years ago now, we don't want further division. We accept we've left, we've got a deal, let's make it work."
Sir Keir said the contest would offer a choice between a frontline NHS doctor and a government "that actually wants to cut, effectively, the pay of those who have been working on the front line in the pandemic".
“You couldn’t get a clearer choice,” he insisted.
However, he was challenged on this by a caller from Hartlepool, who told him “you could actually to be honest with you”, and pointed out that Dr Williams had recently been running to be the local police and crime commissioner.
Sir Keir said the local Labour party was “clear he’s an excellent candidate and we want him”.
He was also challenged by a Labour supporter who said "you don't speak to me because I can't decipher what you actually stand for".
Sir Keir said: "I want to change things for the better, I want to make sure that as we come out of this pandemic we use it as an opportunity to say 'Britain can be better than this, we don't want to go back and patch up where we were when we started, we want to go onto something much better for the future'."