‘A struggle to hold’: Labour fears grow of losing Hartlepool in totemic red wall by-election


It is a north east town that, historically, is about as red as the red wall gets.

Hartlepool has never voted for anything other than a Labour MP in the almost half century since the constituency was created in 1974. When The Independent visited in the run up to the 2019 General Election, one woman captured the mood: “I could never go Tory,” Dorothy Scott, a retired sewing machinist, told this newspaper. “My father would turn in his grave.”

After Mike Hill suddenly quit the seat this week paving the way for a May by-election, this Tees Valley port town of 92,000 people suddenly looks the shakiest of grounds for Sir Keir Starmer.

The talk here is of the once unthinkable: that Hartlepool might be the latest Labour brick to go blue.

And, make no mistake, if it did so, the repercussions would reverberate around Westminster – and may offer a glimpse of how a future general election would play out.

A Tory victory, analysts reckon, would add to questions already being asked about Sir Keir’s appeal in these one-time party heartlands; while simultaneously suggesting that Boris Johnson has retained his ability to attract voters in seats that were once Tory no-go areas – despite what many view as a bungled handling of the pandemic.

“A Conservative win would be massive,” says Professor Matthew Flinders, director of Sheffield University’s Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. “It would be a defining moment because it would show that, even in spite of Covid and the rather shaky opening to Boris’s tenure as prime minister, he is still managing to knock those red dominoes down – even though he’s not really had time yet to invest in the levelling up agenda.


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