The latest polling puts the Tories well ahead of Labour in Hartlepool days before Thursday’s by-election. The seat, which has been red since its creation half a century ago, is passionately pro-Brexit having notched up one of the highest Leave votes at the 2016 EU referendum (70%).
Fleet Street reporters have detected a strong aversion to Labour’s damp Remainer candidate, Paul Williams and straight-laced leader, Keir Starmer, rattling nerves at labour HQ. Today’s poll will have sent activists into meltdown.
The party held on to Hartlepool at the 2019 general election, at least partly because Brexit Party (now Reform UK) supremo, Richard Tice was running there, taking 10,603 votes, just a thousand less than the Tory candidate. Labour’s Mike Hill snuck it with 15,464 votes.
Hill resigned as an MP earlier this year, triggering the by-election, which immediately became tainted with controversy when members of Starmer’s entourage forced the local party to accept outsider, Williams. Since then it has been one calamity after another with Williams making a cringe-inducing attempt to pose as a patriot. Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner then attacked Tory candidate Jill Mortimer by insinuating she was a tax dodger for having lived in the Cayman Islands when in fact Mortimer had lived there because her husband at the time was literally fighting corruption as a regulator.
Rayner and Williams’ backward steps both occurred last month and appear to have had a direct impact on Labour’s poll ratings in Hartlepool. An earlier Survation poll put the Tories on 49% and Labour on 42%, a healthy lead for Mortimer – Reform UK are not in the race, Tice is running for a London assembly seat in a smart strategy with mayoral candidate, Laurence Fox of Reclaim.
The gap between the Conservatives and Labour has now exploded, with the Tories up a point on 50%, while Labour, already languishing in the two-horse race down to 33%, an astonishing nine-point drop.
Starmer seems to be a big factor. Survation also asked Hartlepoolers to rate leaders in Westminster. Boris received a handsome approval rating of 51% with only 28% viewing him unfavourably (+23 net rating), while Starmer received a negative net rating of -18, shocking for a Labour leader in a safe seat. In advance of the poll’s release, bookies Betfair revealed masses of bets were being placed on Starmer’s candidate to lose.
However, the Tories are taking a cautious line, having seen their national rating, which has been hovering around the ten-point mark drop four points yesterday in a survey by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, while Labour went up by the same factor.
The latest Hartlepool poll was conducted before the intense media reporting over Tory sleaze blew up into a complete farce with column inches slavishly devoted to the cost of the prime minister’s wallpaper. An Electoral Commission investigation has since been announced. Conservative MPs are consequently in no mood to take the polling in the seaside seat for granted.
“For people who don’t like Boris it accentuates that,” a cabinet minister told the Times. “That’s got to be a worry ahead of the local elections.”
As for Boris himself, he has written off the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street flat as “trivia” and a “Westminster bubble issue” saying: “I think that people will focus on the issues that matter to them. That is the vaccine rollout, the chances of our economy bouncing back really strongly in the second half of this year, what we are doing to make sure that happens.”