As Labour Leader Keir Starmer tours the Hartlepool constituency trying to garner votes, the Conservative Party may be on the brink of an unexpected victory. The Red Wall of Labour MPs may lose another brick.
Hartlepool, in North-East England, is holding a by-election following sexual harassment and victimisation accusations that have been levelled against sitting Labour MP Mike Hill. He has vigorously denied the allegations. By way of brief history, the constituency has been a Labour stronghold since it was created in 1974 following a boundary change. Lord (Peter) Mandelson, its former MP, had a majority of 17,508 in the 1997 General Election.
The latest poll (albeit taken from just 301 people) showed that 50 per cent of voters would choose Tory candidate, Jill Mortimer, while only 33 per cent would vote for Labour candidate Dr Paul Williams. A poll from a week ago in the Guardian put the lead slightly less at 42 per cent to 37 per cent. It begs the question: why is Labour failing in its core constituencies?
While Boris Johnson’s and Carrie Symonds’ flat refurbishment controversy may be chipping away at the edges, it is not a major impediment. At least, wallpaper-gate isn’t enough to counter Williams’ pro-Remain credentials – which are acting like a millstone dragging the candidate below the water.
Undoubtedly, the Conservative government is claiming huge credit for the successful vaccine roll-out and the falling death rate. On 3rd May, just one Covid death was recorded. Further, though it may seem risible, it is entirely possible that the British public has collectively succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome. Many are willing subjects in a great social experiment, hostages of the state, empathisers of the captors who hold the key to their survival.
But this story is about more than just recent Tory successes. A growing proportion of the electorate, albeit from a low starting point, are looking upon the Labour Party as a pro-Marxist, far left organisation which holds the working class in borderline contempt. For the liberal elite wing, patriotism is source of embarrassment not pride. As George Orwell once wrote, “Almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God Save the King’ than stealing from a poor box.”
There are those in the Labour Party who devoutly embrace “cancel culture,” virtue signalling, political correctness and the woke agenda. Doubtless this stance will find support among certain groups, but many others are sceptical – and harbour fears that it risks destroying freedom of speech. To that end, the best recruiting sergeants for the Conservative Party may have been Diane Abbott, Claudia Webbe, Dawn Butler and Zarah Sultana.
But it’s possible the Tories have a strategy beyond Boris Johnson’s three visits to the Hartlepool constituency. Matthew Goodwin once noted that the ingredients for election victory were patriotism and a left of centre economic programme. It’s possible the Prime Minister is delivering both.
It is my view that the Labour Party can trace its demise back to 2005 when it proposed an inside smoking ban. In 1997, the party won 418 seats. In 2005, it had dropped to 355. By 2010, this had fallen to 258. The smoking ban began in 2006 in Scotland and 2007 in England, and it contributed to the closure of thousands of pubs, working men’s clubs and bingo halls. Although only 20 per cent of British adults smoked regularly at the time, smokers have always been disproportionately more likely both to drink and to visit pubs. This move was symbolic of the Party’s move away from core “Red Wall”, working-class voters towards the Metropolitan elite.
Ultimately, if Jill Mortimer is elected this week it will represent yet another lurch in the Labour Party’s long downward spiral. It has shot itself in the feet so many times that supporters will wonder if it will be able to walk again. If the Opposition wants to turn the tide, it will need to stop alienating their blue-collar voters – and fast.