Hartlepool's Tory Candidate Divides Opinion Among Right-Wing Voters
The Conservative party's choice of candidate for the Hartlepool by-election has left local right-wing voters reeling, as they worry selecting a North Yorkshire farmer has given Labour the edge.
The decision to select Jill Mortimer is said to have delighted Labour party activists, who now think the party is in with a chance of winning.
A local Tory voter said: “The Tories actually have a chance to win for a change and they have thrown everything away on someone who is from outside the area.
“She’s a complete unknown. I now think Labour are going to squeak back over the line and it kills me."
The Hartlepool by-election was triggered earlier this month when ex-Labour MP Mike Hill resigned. He faces allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies. Labour has chosen to field former Stockton South MP Paul Williams, a GP, who was selected by the local party with no competition.
Hartlepool is a key "red wall" seat for Labour to retain and is gearing up to be a marker of Keir Starmer’s popularity since he took over the leadership from Corbyn.
As Mortimer launched her campaign as the Conservative candidate in Hartlepool on Monday, a party spokesperson sought to play up her support within the local party. "Unlike Labour, local people were given a choice rather than having a candidate imposed on them by Labour HQ," they said.
“Jill has a wealth of experience in business, farming and the law. She is entirely focused on campaigning to win Hartlepool so she can give the people in the town there a voice in Westminster."
But it understood that the Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, is unhappy with the choice of candidate, and has so far not endorsed Mortimer on Twitter.
Another right-wing voter, who voted for the Brexit Party at the last election but is considering voting Conservative in May, said they were now more worried than they had been about their party's ability to oust Labour, who have held the seat since its creation in 1974.
They said: “Before they had chosen a candidate I would have said that it was the Tories' election to lose. It may yet be that she’s a good fit but there may have been a missed opportunity that there wasn’t a more local candidate. From speaking to local Tories though, she stood way out from the other two candidates."
Mortimer, a councillor on Hambleton District Council, which covers Northallerton, Bedale and Easingwold, was in Hartlepool today with Tory party chairwoman Amanda Milling to launch her campaign.
“Jill’s campaign will show how Hartlepool has been let down by the Labour Party for decades and only a Conservative MP can serve the best interests of the town as it builds back better from the pandemic,” Milling Tweeted.
Ex-Corbyn loyalist Thelma Walker, who was Labour MP for Colne Valley, and who resigned from the party when the former leader lost the whip, is running for the newly formed Northern Independence Party in the seat.
Allies of hers said she could have a strong impact, as she’s “experienced, northern, and straightforward” and is knowledgeable on the economy, environment and education.
A Labour campaigner in the area said they weren’t worried about Walker’s presence taking votes from Dr Williams as she is tied to the former Corbyn leadership, which they said was not popular on Teesside.
She is also lives more than 100 miles away from the patch.
“She’ll lose her deposit. She’s not got a hope in hell," they said.
On the Conservatives, she said: “From Labour’s perspective, if it had been a Tory woman from Hartlepool….they could have stormed it.There’s still a male industrial worker vote to get. But they’re from North Yorkshire, which might aswell be France.
“There’s a definite split between the posh North Yorkshire Tories and the Teesside ex-UKIP voter, who are more right-wing.”
“I wasn’t optimistic [for Labour] before the selection but I am now.”
At the 2019 general election the race was considered a three-way marginal between Labour (37.7 percent vote share), the Tories (28.9 percent) and the Brexit Party (25.8 percent).
Local voters assume that if the Brexit Party had not stood, then the seat would have gone Tory.
On Wednesday it is expected that ex-Brexit Party candidate for the area, and new leader of Reform UK, Richard Tice, will announce that he will not stand again in the seat, after some in the local party said they would prefer John Tennant.