Hartlepool might not go blue.
Pinning this as the hill Keir Starmer will die on may prove to be a mistake; Labour may well hold the seat.
Dr Paul Williams is an absolutely dire candidate, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not just that I disagree with him, or he isn’t “left” enough for me, it’s not even that he’s a Blairite or a hardcore warrior against the left, because he isn’t particularly either of those things. There’s a reason he’s a terrible choice for Hartlepool politically, and there’s a reason he’s a terrible human being who deserves nothing but utter contempt from anyone who believes in human rights; let’s unpack this clusterfuck of factors that make him a dire candidate for elected office.
The obvious is that Hartlepool is a Leave seat, a heavily Leave seat. Voters there wanted out of the EU, and essentially a majority of them voted Tory or Brexit Party in 2019, with Labour sneaking through the middle. In order to hold the seat, we need to see 2019 Brexit voters break substantially for Labour for them to come out ahead of the Tories. In order to do that, Labour needs to avoid the EU battle that doomed it and placed it on the wrong side of an anti-establishment divide.
History forgets that the issue in these seats wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn; sure, by 2019 they uniquely disliked him, and in 2017 some ground was lost in certain “red wall” seats to Theresa May over Brexit, but there was actually a big Labour surge in certain red wall seats under Corbyn in 2017, seeing the Labour vote jump up and taking back voters from UKIP (who’d have thought a leftwing pacifist could do that??), because Labour promised a People’s Brexit, and that they’d fight the establishment.
So in many ways this byelection will tell us a hell of a lot about 2023/24, and how salient Brexit based political divides are. But that data may be prejudiced by the fact Williams is a Remainer. How much does that matter you ask? Well in theory, if he voted for Remain, advocated Remain, and then got on with his life and other causes, it wouldn’t matter a jot; voters aren’t fanatical, most Labour Leave voters wouldn’t give a toss, because said candidate respected the result from the get go and left it at that (like Corbyn when he had success).
Problem with Williams on this question is he not only fought for a People’s Vote, he fought for it from practically day 1, he stymied the democratic reality of Brexit at every turn, and he rebelled against Corbyn’s Soft Brexit at EVERY POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY, egging the opposition further and further from respecting the result, and then going on TV and blaming Corbyn’s unpopularity for the catastrophic results that ensued electorally. I couldn’t think of a worse candidate to win back Brexit Party voters in a heavily Leave seat.
Williams is literally the problem when it comes to Brexit and Labour, he made that issue toxic for a generation and split Labour’s winning coalition assembled and growing from 2017 onwards, into a disastrous Michael Foot level collapse nationally. He lost a Red Wall seat after running a campaign that distanced himself from the leadership (admittedly a very unpopular one at that time), but also the popular policies being proposed, and talking up how he was the candidate for Remainers; who’d of thought that’d loose you your seat?
Now this might not matter, but judging from the fact the EU is still in the headlines being a bit of a supranational menace, the PM only yesterday used the European issue to attack Labour, and Tory HQ were practically rubbing their hands with glee upon discovering that Williams was the candidate, and digging up all his FBPE tweets, Labour’s enemies clearly think this has legs, so there’s a big risk it does, and a big risk it dents Labour’s credibility and harms their prospects of winning. Either way, why risk it by running someone who’s the poster boy for, and who literally exemplifies Labour’s loss in the Red Wall?
What are William’s strengths? The saving grace, a really potent thing that’ll be a huge asset for him is the fact he’s an NHS doctor. Everywhere this is big, but in this sort of seat in particular the NHS is really, really valued, with Tory NHS pledges helping to coax many to the Tories in that fateful December election. Don’t underestimate the impact that’ll have on literature and ads etc; attacking a doctor isn’t a good look, and this is a big, big selling point for Labour. A bread and butter campaign about the NHS is likely a winner and the best thing Labour could run.
I doubt it’ll make its way into the campaign much (who knows) but the stitch up to get this guy elected is worrying; blatant case of leadership breaking all pledges to democratise the party and being the real “Stalinists”. As for diversity, no women candidates or BAME candidates even got a look in for goodness sakes, dire from a supposedly democratic and progressive party (it’s currently neither).
The reason Williams deserves all possible contempt is that he went on an all expenses paid tour with other Labour MPs (for shame) of the Saudi regime, and called it “progressive” as the UN condemned it on human rights. What a dire state of affairs; an apologist for one of the most brutal, regressive dictatorships on the face of the Earth, a far worse record in many respects than the likes of China and Iran, and all excused by the west because we sell weapons there.
The fact Williams did this means I could never, ever, have any other feelings that total and complete contempt for him. I would in fact urge voters in Hartlepool not to vote for a brutality apologist who accepted a trip to go a chum around with a ghastly hereditary dictatorship; not even to push them on human rights, or condemn them, but to spout their propaganda and PROMOTE their regime!!! How can it get worse than this, with Saudi Paul at the helm? And what does it say about Labour and its leadership that they accept this shit?
I however, plead caution when it comes to Labour loosing the seat. Sure, the Northern Independence Party could tip the balance by nicking younger voters from their left (I’d vote for them if I was in Hartlepool, and best of bloody luck to them), but Labour is still the favourite, and I still think quite likely to win. the Tories have maybe a 40% chance, and Labour a 60% chance; don’t expect a blue win and then end up with egg on your face; don’t make this the ultimate test for Keir Starmer.