2021 Hartlepool by-election
The 2021 Hartlepool by-election was a by-election held in the UK parliamentary constituency of Hartlepool following the resignation of the sitting Member of Parliament (MP), Mike Hill. It was held on 6 May 2021 alongside elections to the Borough Council, Tees Valley Mayor, and Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner. The seat is part of the "red wall", a set of constituencies that historically supported the Labour Party but where the party is being challenged by increasing Conservative support.
This was the first by-election to the parliament elected in 2019. The 21-month gap between the last by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire in August 2019 and the polling day of the by-election in Hartlepool was the longest since World War II. The 21-month gap was partially attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, won the by-election with 51.9% of the vote and a swing from Labour of almost 16%. It became only the second time since 1982 that the governing party gained a seat in a by-election, and the first Conservative win in the constituency since its creation in 1974, with a majority of 6,940 votes.
Hartlepool, named after the town of the same name, had been held by the Labour Party since 1964. The seat includes the town of Hartlepool itself and the nearby villages of Hart, Elwick, Greatham, Newton Bewley and Dalton Piercy.
Hill is due to face an employment tribunal later in the year following allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation. Hill was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2019 over allegations of sexual harassment, but reinstated in October 2019. In January 2020, Hill's request for anonymity was turned down in an upcoming employment tribunal related to the accusations. The alleged victim stated that she had also made a report to the Metropolitan Police at the time of the original accusations. On 16 March 2021, Hill announced his resignation with immediate effect.
Candidates and timetable
There were sixteen candidates, the most for any UK Commons by-election since Haltemprice & Howden in 2008. The full list was published on 8 April 2021.
NHS doctor and former MP Paul Williams was selected on 18 March as the Labour candidate. Williams represented the nearby constituency of Stockton South but lost his seat at the 2019 election. He had been standing for the position of Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, to be elected in May 2021, but withdrew from that contest in order to stand in Hartlepool.
On 17 March, Reform UK leader Richard Tice, who contested the seat in 2019, told LBC that the party intended to stand a candidate. On 31 March, the party selected businessman John Prescott (no relation to the former deputy prime minister of the same name) as their candidate. He was the party's candidate for Stockton South in the 2019 election, under its previous name of the Brexit Party.
The Northern Independence Party (NIP) announced on 17 March that they would contest the by-election. Later that month, they selected as their candidate former Labour MP Thelma Walker, who represented the West Yorkshire constituency of Colne Valley, but lost her seat at the 2019 election. Due to the NIP not being registered with the Electoral Commission by the deadline on 8 April, Walker is listed on ballot as an Independent.
On 20 March, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) announced their intention to stand in the by-election. On 29 March, the SDP announced that its candidate would be David Bettney, a former regimental sergeant major in the Light Dragoons. On 22 March, Gemma Evans from the Women's Equality Party expressed her intention to stand. On 24 March, the North East Party announced that former Labour MP and founding party member Hilton Dawson would be their candidate for the by-election.
On 26 March, the Conservative Party selected farmer and Hambleton District Cllr Jill Mortimer as their candidate in the by-election. She was previously the Conservative candidate in Leeds East at the 2019 election. Incumbent Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen was reportedly unhappy with the choice of candidate due to her not being from the area, declining to endorse Mortimer at the time of her selection.
On 31 March, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party selected party treasurer Nick "The Incredible Flying Brick" Delves as their candidate.
On 2 April, local pub owner Adam Gaines announced his intention to stand as an independent candidate. On the same day, the Liberal Democrats selected schoolteacher Andy Hagon as their candidate. Hagon was the party's candidate for the constituency at both the 2017 and 2019 elections.
On 6 April, former journalist and local businesswoman Samantha Lee announced her intention to stand as an independent candidate lobbying for Hartlepool to be awarded freeport status.
On 7 April, Rachel Featherstone, a lecturer at Teesside University, was selected as the Green Party candidate. Featherstone was previously her party's candidate for Sunderland Central in 2015, 2017, and 2019, and was top of the Green Party list in North East England at the 2019 European election.
On 8 April, London-based businessman Ralph Ward-Jackson, descendant of West Hartlepool founder and 19th century Conservative MP for the The Hartlepools, Ralph Ward Jackson, declared that he had filed to run, citing the town's lack of a hospital and closure of the magistrates' court. Ward-Jackson had previously been selected by the local Conservative Party to contest the seat at the 2019 general election, but withdrew to support the Brexit Party.
Labour was criticised for the conduct of its selection process, which gave candidates one day to submit application papers. An unnamed Labour MP accused Labour's leadership of a "stitch-up", and alleged that the speed of Labour's selection had disadvantaged local party members. Labour leader Keir Starmer said that the local party had written to Labour headquarters to identify Paul Williams as their preferred choice. While Williams was a vocal advocate of a second referendum on EU membership, the constituency of Hartlepool supported Brexit by almost 70%, leading to criticism after he deleted his pro-EU tweets before his candidacy.
During the by-election campaign, Williams apologised for a tweet he posted in 2011: "Do you have a favourite Tory MILF? Mind-blowing dinner table conversation". He was defended by Starmer, while Labour peer and former shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti called for him to be replaced "immediately". Williams' campaign featured a pledge to return hospital services to the town, but was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that he was a co-author of a clinical commissioning group report which recommended the closure of those services in 2013.
Early in the by-election campaign, Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer was criticised for being based in North Yorkshire. When asked if Hartlepool was somewhere she spent a lot of time, Mortimer replied: "It hasn't been up until now, but it will be". Later in the campaign, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner accused Mortimer of corruption. In a letter to Conservative Party Chairman Amanda Milling, Rayner requested the publication of a "full account" of Mortimer's time living in the Cayman Islands. Milling described Rayner's accusation as a "desperate attack" that was "factually wrong and entirely disingenuous".
The by-election attracted considerable political attention, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Conservative Party Chairman Amanda Milling campaigning in the town for the Conservatives, while Keir Starmer, members of his Shadow Cabinet, and the wider Labour frontbench campaigned in the town for Labour. Campaigning was suspended for the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
On 22 April, it was reported that Independent candidate Chris Killick is a convicted sex offender. He filmed a 62-second clip of a naked woman in her hotel room while she was unconscious in 2015; she said she woke up to Killick not knowing who he was or how she arrived in the hotel, and said that she was drugged and raped. In 2020, Killick was given a 30-month community order and fined £2,000, and ordered to pay £5,000 in compensation to his victim. Killick did not mention his conviction on any election form or to those who signed his nomination papers, describing his candidacy as "an experiment to see how much publicity I can get. Not by speaking about the offence I committed, but by speaking about the stuff I really care about." In response, 1,400 people signed an online petition calling for the government to prohibit sex offenders from standing for public office.
Part of a MRP projection with other constituencies
|Lab||Con||Reform||Lib Dem||Green||Thelma Walker||Sam Lee||NEP||Others||Lead|
|2021 by-election||6 May 2021||–||28.7%||51.9%||1.2%||1.2%||1.2%||0.8%||9.7%||0.5%||4.7%||23.2%|
|Survation||Good Morning Britain||23–29 Apr 2021||517||33%||50%||1%||1%||3%||6%||6%||<1%||1%||17%|
|Survation||Communication Workers Union||29 Mar – 3 Apr 2021||502||42%||49%||1%||1%||1%||2%||–||<1%||4%||7%|
|Focaldata||The Times||18–21 Mar 2021||5,265||39%||36%||9%||3%||7%||–||–||–||6%||3%|
|2019 general election||12 Dec 2019||–||37.7%||28.9%||25.8%||4.1%||–||–||–||–||3.4%||8.8%|
|Reform UK||John Prescott||368||1.2||–24.6|
|Liberal Democrats||Andy Hagon||349||1.2||–2.9|
|No description||Chris Killick||248||0.8||N/A|
|North East||Hilton Dawson||163||0.5||N/A|
|Independent||W. Ralph Ward-Jackson||157||0.5||N/A|
|Women's Equality||Gemma Evans||140||0.5||N/A|
|Monster Raving Loony||The Incredible Flying Brick||104||0.3||N/A|
|Freedom Alliance||Steve Jack||72||0.2||N/A|
|Conservative gain from Labour||Swing||+16.0|
The result was the biggest swing towards an incumbent governing party in a by-election in the post war era; the record was formerly the 1945 Bournemouth by-election.
|Brexit Party||Richard Tice||10,603||25.8||N/A|
|Liberal Democrats||Andy Hagon||1,696||4.1||+2.3|
|Socialist Labour||Kevin Cranney||494||1.2||N/A|
The election result was widely seen as a blow to the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer. While Peter Mandelson put the blame on former leader Jeremy Corbyn, and argued the party hadn't changed enough, some figures on the Labour left regarded the defeat as a repudiation of Starmer's centrist vision for Labour. Attention was especially focused on the idea that voters didn't know what Starmer stood for, a conclusion Williams and Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner both agreed with.
- 2004 Hartlepool by-election, an earlier by-election in this constituency.
- 2021 Hartlepool Borough Council election, simultaneous local council elections.
- 2021 Airdrie and Shotts by-election, a UK Parliament by-election taking place a week later.
- 2021 Chesham and Amersham by-election, a UK Parliament by-election triggered around the same time.
- 2021 Batley and Spen by-election, a by-election triggered at around the same time by the resignation of another red wall Labour MP.
- United Kingdom by-election records; this election is notable in that the government party gained a seat they had not previously held.
- Walker is a member of and endorsed by the Northern Independence Party, but appears on the ballot as an Independent due to that party not being registered with the Electoral Commission.
- Candidate unspecified, question asked about "a Liberal Democrat candidate".
- Candidate unspecified, question asked about "a Green Party candidate".
- Across 83 constituencies within the North.
- Not the Labour politician with the same name
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