"We Are The Left Vote": Northern Independence Party Deny Splitting The Labour Vote In May Elections
The Northern Independence Party is standing in the Hartlepool by-election this week (Twitter/FreeTheNorth)
Leaders of the newly-formed Northern Independence Party (NIP) argue that their candidate is the only “left wing vote” in the upcoming Hartlepool by-election as the Conservatives are now “more progressive” than Labour.
The seat is being contested on their behalf by former Labour MP Thelma Walker, who previously represented Colne Valley from 2017 to 2019.
Critics of the party say that, by running against Labour in Hartlepool, they are splitting the left-leaning vote in favour of the Conservatives.
But, speaking to PoliticsHome, the party’s interim vice chair Meredith Knowles has insisted that the NIP offers a credible alternative to the main parties.
“We're not splitting the vote, we are the left vote. The Conservatives are now pushing a more progressive agenda than the Labour Party,” she said.
“We're the left wing vote if you want to stick to your values. If you want to vote for democratic socialism, if you want to vote for progressive policies, then that's us.”
Knowles added that people in Hartlepool had told her they’d been discouraged from voting Labour amid controversy over its candidate selection process.
The party is currently being represented in the by-election by Dr Paul Williams, who was brought in to replace Mike Hill following allegations of sexual harassment.
“I do think there's discontent with the way in which Labour went about picking their candidate, with how he was parachuted in,” she said.
“And also with the way the Labour Party is moving right now, which is to the right of the Conservative on several issues. That's not the Labour Party.
Ex-Colne Valley MP Thelma Walker is the Northern Independence Party candidate for the Hartlepool by-election (Alamy)
“A lot of people are really cynical and jaded with politics in general [in Hartlepool]. That's the impression I've had from speaking to people.”
Luke Blaylock, the party’s press officer and one of its founding members, agrees. He told PoliticsHome: “We can't really afford to wait for Labour to get their act together.
“If they're worried about us splitting the vote, they really need to look at themselves. It’s not up to us, it’s up to them.”
Blaylock added that he believes the NIP offers a credible alternative to Tory voters, as well as to traditional “Red Wall” Labour voters who feel the party has “forgotten” the North.
“We've got members from rural areas who are pissed off that are normally staunch Tory, and they are now disillusioned with the Tory party,” he said.
Jill Mortimer is standing as the Conservative Party candidate for Hartlepool (Alamy)
“Obviously, they're fewer in numbers than people from the [Labour] Red Wall. But there's disillusionment on both sides.”
Founded in October 2020 by former Labour Party activist Philip Proudfoot, the NIP was borne from anti-Westminster sentiment following the clash between Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and the government over lockdown funding.
Its central platform is that Northern England should secede to become an independent state dubbed Northumbria, which will then host a "green industrial rebirth" and "socialism with a northern accent".
Alongside this, it also proposes a range of radical policies including the legalisation of marijuana, a referendum on the Queen remaining head of state and rejoining the EU.
The NIP started out mostly online and quickly became known for its scathing tweets and frequent memes criticising both the current government and the Labour party as a whole.
This has led some to question its credibility as a political party, but Knowles is also dismissive of this attack line.
“We're either told that we're a joke and a scam — a meme party — or that we're splitting the vote,” she said.
“How can we be both a joke and splitting the vote? The attack lines are not great.”
She added that it’s “not a bad thing to be fun on social media”, insisting that its tongue-in-cheek attitude has contributed to its success.
“The Labour Party — who've probably interacted with us more on social media — don't know what to make of it, because we have firmly rebutted the narrative that we’re a meme party. We have a sound manifesto and good, decent policies.”
But, despite their online success and talk of their first prospective parliamentary candidate, voters will not actually see the NIP on the ballot when they go to the polls on 6 May.
Due to a delay with their Electoral Commission registration, which only took place in February this year, the party was not able to formalise itself ahead of the candidate nomination deadline.
As a result, Walker and the party’s seven local candidates are appearing on the ballot as independent candidates, though they are all endorsed by the NIP.