21:51 GMT12 May 2021
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    Labour has held the Hartlepool constituency since 1974 — and survived the loss of dozens of “Red Wall” seats, some of which had been Labour's for a century, in the 2019 general election that saw Boris Johnson's Conservatives win a landslide victory.

    The Tories look set to smash another gap in Labour's northern "Red Wall" after a poll gave them a 17-point lead in the Hartlepool by-election.

    The Survation poll for ITV's Good Morning Britain put Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer on first place with a landslide 50 percent of the vote, with Labour candidate Dr Paul Williams trailing on 33 per cent.

    In joint third place in the field of 16 candidates were two independents — Thelma Walker from the unregistered Northern Independence Party and Sam Lee, a local mother and businesswoman. The Greens and Liberal Democrats follow with negligible support, along with Reform UK candidate John Prescott — no relation to the former Labour minister and salt-of-the-earth Yorkshireman of the same name.

    In a sign of how seriously the main parties are taking the by-election, Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were both out campaigning in Hartlepool over the bank holiday weekend.

    ​But Starmer squirmed as the Good Morning Britain presenters grilled him about his recent political "stunt" of a photo-op in the wallpaper section of posh department store John Lewis on Tuesday — and pointed out that he was "on the wrong side of Brexit" — when the town voted by almost 70 per cent to leave the European Union (EU).

    Labour has held Hartlepool since 1974, despite losing dozens of other northern English seats to the Tories in the 2019 general election in what is dubbed the "Red Wall" over its support for a second referendum on leaving the EU — a policy pushed by Starmer when he was shadow Brexit secretary under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

    Labour candidate Williams, who lost the nearby Stockton South seat in 2019, campaigned to stay in the EU in 2016 — and later broke his party whip six times to vote for a repeat referendum on the issue.

    Previous MPs include former Labour PM Tony Blair's right-hand man Peter Mandelson, who was later appointed a member of the European Commission.

    The by-election was called for the same day as local and regional government elections after sitting Labour MP Mike Hill resigned in March. Hill is being taken to an employment tribunal by a former staff member who accused him of sexual harassment. He was briefly suspended by Labour in September 2019 after the allegation was first made, but reinstated the next month.

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    Tags:
    Brexit, UK Conservative Party, UK Labour Party, Keir Starmer, Boris Johnson
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