Brexit: Peter Mandelson discusses chances of UK rejoining EU
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The Hartlepool by-election is pitting up to be one of the most hotly anticipated local ballots. Sir Keir Starmer was forced to field a new candidate after former MP Mike Hill resigned from the seat earlier this year. The Labour leader surprised many after he picked Paul Williams as the person to defend the town.
Mr Williams, a local GP originally from Canterbury, Kent, is an arch-Remainer having championed a People’s Vote in the aftermath of Brexit.
He will now battle it out against the Conservatives’ Jill Mortimer in a seat that voted 70 percent to leave the EU.
Many have noted that it is the most attention Hartlepool has received in years.
A small port town in the northeast of England, it is one of a number of seats that make up the Red Wall, a band of working class communities that left Labour in their droves in the 2019 general election.
Political observers say it was an event long in the making, stemming from the days of Tony Blair’s New Labour.
It was here that the party realigned itself, leaving behind the old, socialist way and adopting a new, middle class and centrist vision.
Among those who entered the fore during this time was Peter Mandelson, who was MP for Hartlepool between 1992 and 2004.
Despite being reelected for more than a decade, opinion remains divided over his legacy.
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Much of it can be found in his devotedness to the EU, while many of his constituents – historically socially conservaitve – refused to believe in the European Project.
In 2017, The Guardian visited Hartlepool to gather a mass of opinion on Mr Mandelson, finding many still bitter about their former MP.
The publication wrote: “Some who responded to our callout blamed him for their loss of faith in politicians, accusing him of using the town as a stepping stone for a big job in Brussels.”
Mr Mandelson was nominated by Mr Blair for the role of European Commissioner for Trade in 2004.
He was successful and left his post, shortly replaced by Ian Wright who held the post until 2017.
He fulfilled his European role while working as Trade Secretary, and also entered the House of Lords.
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On Mr Mandelson, The Guardian noted: “There is little doubt the Oxford-educated Blairite was an odd fit for Hartlepool – and not only for the now-denied story that he once confused mushy peas for guacamole in one of the town’s chip shops.”
Despite this, he won Labour’s biggest ever majority in the town when first elected in 1992.
Summing up why he believed Hartlepool went from electing one of Europe’s biggest cheerleaders to voting resoundingly for Brexit, he said: “You had a mixture of appalling recession and austerity, poor politics and local leadership, a lot of public anger and a very, very handy protest vote in Ukip.”
Graham Robb, a Conservative candidate in the 1992 election, told the publication that Hartlepool has always been Eurosceptic but that it was willing to give Mr Mandelson the benefit of the doubt because they spotted “a man of exceptional talent”.
Things have changed considerably since Mr Mandelson’s time, however.
Hartlepool has never been won by the Conservatives.
Yet Tory candidate Ms Mortimer appears to have gained some traction.
The first and only major election poll carried out by Survation earlier this month found Ms Mortimer to be ahead of Labour by seven points.
This is despite her admitting that she had not “spent a lot of time” in the town, having spent much of the last ten years in the Cayman Islands.
Many locals are increasingly hopeful that the Tories could win-over those let down by Labour.
Ray Martin-Wells, the president of the local Tory association told The Times: “For the first time in my life, yes, I genuinely do think we could win.”
Mr Mandelson thinks otherwise, recently commenting that voters are “ready to return to Labour”.
The party has a slim majority of 3,595, seriously squeezed in previous elections by the likes of Ukip and the Brexit Party.
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