Labour Accused Of A Candidate "Stitch-Up" Over Hartlepool By-Election Timetable
Labour is under fire from its own members for giving candidates wanting to stand in the Hartlepool by-election just one day to apply.
Hopefuls had until just 5pm today to make an application to be Labour's candidate for the election, triggered after Labour MP Mike Hill resigned over allegations of harassment.
Long-listing, then short-listing, will take place by the end of the week. It is expected that Labour will push for the election to be held on May 6, to coincide with local polls.
A Labour MP in the north-east said the party was making a big mistake by opting for such a rapid process, which would disadvantage local party members and people working normal hours.
They said: "It's not very inclusive giving people one day to apply. We should be looking for someone who is not steeped in politics, someone working locally, not someone embedded with the unions, or someone who's already Labour establishment.
"We need a fresh face for Hartlepool. Definitely not someone who wanted to overturn the result of the Brexit referendum. That will not wash with voters.
"But my worry is this timetable smacks of the fact they already know who they want. It smacks of a stitch up."
The 2019 general election saw Hill's majority reduce to 3,595 from 7,650 in a three-way race between Labour, the Tories and The Brexit Party.
Richard Tice took a quarter of the total votes for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, potentially denying a clear majority for the Tories. Tice is understood to be considering running again under new party name Reform, if the Tories stand down, though it is understood there is discussion going on within local Reform members about whether he is the right fit for the area.
Speculation on who will apply for Labour has centred on former Stockton South MP and local GP, Dr Paul Williams, who is currently running as Labour's police and crime commissioner (PCC) candidate for Cleveland.
A leaked email from the Hartlepool constituency Labour party secretary showed that he was their preference and that they want a one-person short-list, admitting that this would anger "the left" and could lead to accusations of a Keir Starmer stitch-up.
The local party also said teacher and Hartlepool Labour figure Jonathan Brash would swap in for Williams in the PCC election, to enable him to run for Parliament. A final decision on this would need to be taken by the party's National Executive Committee next week, should Williams be selected.
It is also understood former Durham North West MP and National Executive Committee member, Laura Pidcock, is also likely to apply to be the parliamentary candidate. She sat in Jeremy Corbyn's front-bench team and currently chairs The People's Assembly Against Austerity campaign group.
Hartlepool has been held by Labour since the 1970s, and its preceding seat The Hartlepools was Labour from 1945 onwards apart from 1959-64, when it was Conservative-held. Peter Mandleson held the seat between 1992 and 2004.
Williams is known for campaigning hard for a second EU referendum during this time as an MP, and it was reported by political blog Guido Fawkes that tweets on his account relating to Europe have recently been deleted.
"You might be able to delete Twitter, but you can't delete Hansard," the north-east MP said.
"If there's a strong remainer, that just won't wash."
"A lot of Labour party members voted Leave. It shouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility to find a candidate who voted for Brexit and who backs it. It should be a Brexit voting, local candidate."
Williams has not commented publicly on whether he wants to run in the by-election.
The Tories are waiting for the party to begin the technical process of 'moving the writ' and call the by-election date before starting their selection process.
A Labour source said: "There are very good reasons in what is going to be a really hard-fought election campaign to have a swift process for chosing the candidate.
"The quicker you make the selection, the quicker you can get out and fight a campaign.
"Many people voted Remain, many people voted for Brexit. That process is over now. We have left the EU and no matter who the candidate is, it's about making sure that this country has the most optimistic and growth led future that we can. We are fighting for a better future for Hartlepool."
A Tory HQ source said it is far too early to say whether their candidate who ran in the 2019 general election in Hartlepool, Stefan Houghton, who is a local councillor in Stockton-on-Tees, would run again.
"Any candidate is going to face a challenge. It has been a consistently Labour seat for a long time. This will be tricky for us," the source said.