Richard Tice (R), Brexit Party candidate for Hartlepool attends the general election count on December 13, 2019 (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Could Tice scupper the Tories in Hartlepool?

The Hartlepool by-election will require a careful candidate selection for the Conservatives

If they’re looking at the betting odds and the previous Tory result, CCHQ will be confident they could win in Hartlepool. Labour only have a majority of 3,595 with 37 per cent of the vote. At the 2019 general election the Tories and the Brexit Party got 29 percent and 25 percent respectively. If nothing changes, the Tories would have to raid less than half the votes given to the Brexit Party to take the seat.

But it’s a very Brexity constituency. In 2015, it was one of Ukip’s top target seats and seven out of ten voters from Hartlepool backed Leave in the EU referendum. The failure of Boris Johnson to regain much control of Britain’s fishing stocks may be used locally by Reform UK (the rebranded Brexit Party) in a constituency with good access to North Sea fish but limited quotas to extract them.

There were around thirty seats that the Brexit Party denied to the Conservatives at the last election which had the potential of turning blue. In Yvette Cooper’s Pontefract seat, the Brexit Party got over 16 percent, the Tories got 35 percent and Cooper was elected with a majority of 3 percent. Only the most diehard Brexit Party supporter would fail to concede that the party’s absence would have unseated the former Labour Cabinet member.

The previous Brexit Party candidate for Hartlepool in 2019 was Nigel Farage’s wingman, Richard Tice, who now leads Reform UK. Whilst it is unlikely that his restyled party can win, sources suggest that Tice is considering another tilt at the seat which could easily prevent the Conservatives from taking it.

A similar thing happened in nearby Houghton and Sunderland South. The ERG’s long-standing researcher, Christopher Howarth, stood there for the Conservatives in 2019 and came within 3,000 votes of unseating the sitting Labour MP, Bridget Phillipson. Like Hartlepool and Pontefract, if a section of the Brexit Party voters had switched to the Conservatives, the Tory candidate would have won. 

Howarth is said to be considering applying to fight Hartlepool. Whilst it is hard to see the Cameroonian candidate selection office picking someone like him, perhaps a demonstrably pro-Brexit Tory is the only person who could dissuade Tice from standing.

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