|County County Durham|
Created 1974 (1974)
Number of members One
|Electorate 70,010 (December 2010)|
Member of parliament Iain Wright (Labour)
Created from The Hartlepools
Hartlepool /ˈhɑːrtˌlᵻpᵿl/ is a borough constituency represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament which has elected a Labour member to serve it since 1964.
The seat is currently coterminous with the borough of Hartlepool, which has close to the average population for a UK parliamentary constituency. The seat includes the town of Hartlepool itself and the nearby villages of Hart, Elwick, Greatham, Newton Bewley and Dalton Piercy. Before 1974 the seat was known as The Hartlepools (reflecting the representation of both 'old' Hartlepool and West Hartlepool).
The constituency had previously substantially been in the constituency of The Hartlepools. It became the constituency of Hartlepool in 1974.
Since its creation Hartlepool has been a Labour constituency, although its predecessor did have Conservative MPs both in the early 1960s and during the Second World War. In the 1992 general election, Edward Leadbitter stood down and was succeeded by the former Labour Director of Communications Peter Mandelson. Mandelson's pivotal role in the reshaping of the Labour Party into New Labour has attracted much attention and he has become a prominent target. During the first term of office of the Labour government he was twice appointed to the Cabinet and twice forced to resign amid controversial small scandals. In the 2001 general election, there was a prominent contest when the former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and current leader of the Socialist Labour Party, Arthur Scargill stood, hoping to exploit uneasiness about "New Labour" in the traditional Labour heartlands. In the event, Mandelson held his seat, while Scargill polled only 912 votes. Mandelson shocked many with a highly triumphalist victory speech in which he declared "They underestimated Hartlepool, and they underestimated me, because I am a fighter and not a quitter!".
The following year, the town's first direct Mayoral election generated surprise when the mascot of Hartlepool United F.C., H'Angus the Monkey (real name Stuart Drummond) was elected on a platform that included free bananas for schoolchildren.
Mandelson quit his role as MP for Hartlepool when he was appointed as a European Commissioner in the summer of 2004. This triggered a by-election that took place on 30 September 2004. The Hartlepool by-election was the last before the 2005 general election. Iain Wright retained the seat for Labour. That by-election marked the first time that the United Kingdom Independence Party had ever come third in a by-election. Labour have continued to hold the seat since the by-election with a dwindling majority and falling vote share, and at the three most recent elections, three different parties have come second - the Liberal Democrats in 2005 (following their strong performance in the by-election the previous year), the Conservatives in 2010, and UKIP - going one better than their by-election showing - in 2015. In 2010, the Conservatives gained their largest percentage vote increase in the country in Hartlepool taking the Labour majority to just over 5,500, whilst in 2015, UKIP recorded their eleventh highest vote share in the UK, taking 28% and reducing the Labour majority to just over 3,000.
2010 General Election
Both the 2010 and 2015 General Elections (in addition to several local elections) took place against the backdrop of concerns regarding the potential closure of Hartlepool and Stockton hospitals and their replacement with a new ‘super hospital’ in out-of- town Wynyard. This precipitated the closure of several departments and the removal of services from Hartlepool. The move was initially supported by Hartlepool MP Iain Wright and opposed by Stockton South candidate James Wharton at the 2010 election. A substantial protest group was formed opposing Wynyard and calling on services to remain at Hartlepool, backed by a campaign by local newspaper the Hartlepool Mail.
Following the 2008 recession, the incoming Conservative-Liberal Democrat Governmental coalition announced it would scrap the Wynyard proposals, although no guarantees were made regarding the future of Hartlepool hospital. This issue continued to dominate politics in Hartlepool at both General Elections and local council elections, which dented support for Iain Wright and Labour, who had backed the Wynyard plans, whilst many independent candidates gained traction.
At the 2010 General Elections the Conservative Party approached regional BBC broadcaster and Hartlepool Mail columnist Alan Wright to stand as their candidate, despite his lack of political and campaigning experience, hoping that his high profile would help. It was also noted that the similarity of his name to the town's existing MP, and the fact he would feature above him on the ballot paper, may result in additional votes. The Conservatives gained a 16.7% swing – the largest in the country – taking second place from the Liberal Democrats and gaining them a vote share far exceeding their traditional local support.
2015 General Election
Sitting MP Iain Wright was the only 2010 candidate to remain on the much extended ballot paper in 2015, where the three main parties faced competition from UKIP, the Green Party and three Independent candidates, each standing primarily on healthcare related platforms. Popular local taxi driver and charity fundraiser Stephen Picton put himself forward as the voice of the hospital campaigners, although this was challenged by the last-minute candidacy of Sandra Allison who stood under the banner of ‘Your Vote Could Save Our Hospital’. John Hobbs, an 80-year old autism campaigner stood under the tag-line ‘Tell it like it is’.
UKIP earmarked Hartlepool as a potential gain and the seat became one of its top ten national targets as well as its main target in the North East, attracting significant party funding, visits from leader Nigel Farage and the regional party conference. It selected Philip Broughton, a former Stockton Conservative Councillor and wrestling entrepreneur, as its candidate. The Conservative Party selected public affairs consultant and competitive swimmer Richard Royal as its candidate. The Conservative’s national 40/40 strategy meant that much of its regional resources were directed towards the marginal seats of Stockton South and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, forcing candidates to campaign outside of their selected seats. The Green Party selected local member Michael Holt, who had been arrested the previous year for obstructing a police officer at a protest in London, although charges were subsequently dropped. Just days before the nomination deadline, the Liberal Democrats selected Darlington based Hilary Allen as its candidate.
On Valentines Day 2015 a ‘We Love Our Hospital’ rally was organised by Save Our Hospital and the Teeside Peoples’ Assembly Against Austerity, attracting large crowds in Hartlepool town centre. Candidates Iain Wright, Richard Royal, Philip Broughton, Stephen Picton and Michael Holt each gave speeches alongside other selected speakers. It was reported that Iain Wright was booed and heckled by the crowd.
One day prior to the General Election, local football club Hartlepool United FC took the unprecedented step of openly criticising Wright and seemingly encouraging fans to support either Royal or Broughton, both of whom had met the club’s leadership and shown support for its interests. The club had been under pressure, facing relegation and had an ongoing land dispute with the Labour council.
Throughout the campaign, both Phillip Broughton and Richard Royal sought to portray themselves as the only viable alternative to Iain Wright, with Broughton distributing leaflets claiming that the Hartlepool election was a ‘two-horse race’, and Royal referring to the close 2010 result with his slogan “Wright for your town? Wrong for your future. Turn Hartlepool Royal Blue”. As a result, much of the anti-Labour vote was split, with UKIP and the Conservatives gaining a combined 48.9% compared to Iain Wright’s 35.6%, but neither taking enough votes individually to defeat Labour. At one point during election night itself the vote looked so close that a recount was reported to be due, but this proved to be unnecessary after the inclusion of postal votes.