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When Hartlepudlians go to the polling booth on Thursday, they will be voting for both their local representatives on the council, which is currently a coalition between Independents and Conservatives, as well as a new MP, after a by-election was called when Mike Hill, the former Labour MP, stood down following sexual harassment allegations.
The Tories have never won Hartlepool, which has remained Labour since its creation in 1974, but it is now the party’s most vulnerable seat. Jill Mortimer, a farmer and North Yorkshire district councillor, is the Tory candidate.
Shane Moore, leader of Hartlepool Council, said the feeling on the ground was that the Tories would win the by-election. “It’s theirs to lose”, he said.
On Monday, Boris Johnson visited Seaton in Hartlepool, a sure sign he knows how important this seat is, as winning it would suggest the fall of the North’s “Red Wall” is not a one-off.
Tees Valley and West Midlands mayoral races
Andy Street, a former chief executive of John Lewis, has been the West Midlands mayor since 2017. He won the seat against the odds when Labour dominated four of the seven councils, and is now running for a second time to keep the seat blue. His competition is Liam Byrne, a former Cabinet minister under Gordon Brown.
A recent survey gave Mr Street a nine point lead over Mr Byrne, with 46 per cent saying they would back Mr Street as their first choice.
The Tories also had another surprise gain at the time of Mr Street’s win when Ben Houchen became the mayor for Tees Valley. He is running again this year and is up Jessie Joe Jacobs, a charity director. Both campaigns will be seen as a major test of the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, who plans to win back former Labour heartlands.
The 5,000 council seats up for election
Arguably the biggest test for Sir Keir is how many council seats his party secures, with all eyes on councils on the “Red Wall”. The success of the vaccine rollout is strongly in the Tories’ favour, while a YouGov poll on May 1 found the party was likely to win key marginals including Dudley, Northumberland and Derby.
Other prominent red bricks in the wall, including Bury, Hyndburn and Lincoln, are also likely to fall, including threatened majorities in Wolverhampton, Sheffield, and Warrington. The poll found Labour could lose 59 seats in the 20 “Red Wall” councils and overall, while the Tories could take an extra 90 seats. It said that the “current voting intention figures among those who plan to vote (or have already voted via postal ballot) suggest that Keir Starmer’s Labour party could be in for yet another tough night in their former heartlands”.
A recent poll found Labour faced its worst Senedd election result since devolution in 1999. In the constituency section of the ballot, the party is predicted to win 32 per cent of the vote, with the Conservatives up four points on 30 per cent, with Plaid Cymru in third place on 23 per cent.
Professor Roger Scully of Cardiff University, who jointly commissioned the YouGov poll, said the findings showed a “substantial shrinkage in Labour’s advantage, and a clear improvement in the position of the Welsh Conservatives”. Meanwhile, political insiders insisted it was a “two horse race” between Labour and the Tories, with the potential of Labour doing a deal with Plaid Cymru dismissed as “talk”.