A former MP ousted by Boris Johnson’s landslide win in 2019 has been announced as Labour’s candidate in the Hartlepool by-election.
Dr Paul Williams, formerly the MP for Stockton South from 2017 until 2019, has been chosen to contest the seat after incumbent Mike Hill resigned this week amid sexual harassment allegations.
Hill’s sudden departure sets up a fresh electoral contest in Hartlepool, a seat long-held by Labour, marking the first test of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership in the so-called “red wall” of the party’s heartlands since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn last year.
The prime minister made advances into traditional Labour territory in the North of England, Midlands and north Wales during the general election in December 2019, in which he secured a Conservative majority victory.
One of the seats taken as part of the host of red-to-blue turnovers in the North East was Dr Williams’ former Stockton South seat.
Dr Williams, an advocate for a second referendum on leaving the European Union before being ousted from Parliament, will represent Labour in Hartlepool, a constituency which voted by nearly 70% for Brexit.
Labour said the married father-of-two had been “working on the front line during the ongoing pandemic”, seeing coronavirus patients at Hartlepool’s One Life Centres and working in the Urgent Care Centre at Hartlepool hospital.
In a statement, Dr Williams said it was an “honour” to be selected as the prospective MP for the “brilliant town”.
He added: “The Tories have let Hartlepool down.
“Over the past decade of being in power they’ve taken from Hartlepool, taken police off the streets and taken services from our local hospital.
“The Tories on Teesside are focused on Stockton and Middlesbrough and Hartlepool gets the crumbs from the table, if we get anything at all.
“We don’t want people to have to go out of the town to get good jobs or go to hospital or to the shops.
“We want jobs and services right here in Hartlepool for local people. That’s what I’ll be fighting for as Hartlepool’s MP.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Paul has already been keeping local people safe as a doctor during the Covid crisis – he will be a powerful voice for the town as its next MP.
“I can’t wait to campaign alongside him.
“Over the last year, the Labour Party has been listening and changing: returning the party to the people.
“That’s why at this election we’ll be fighting to secure Hartlepool’s local economy, protect its NHS and then rebuild the town after the pandemic.”
A spokesman for Hartlepool Constituency Labour Party said Dr Williams was the “standout choice”, although reports suggested he was the only candidate put forward.
Amanda Milling, co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, said: “Labour’s candidate is a failed former MP who has already been rejected by the people of the North East.
“At the EU referendum in 2016 Hartlepool voted 69.6% to Leave.
“Paul Williams wanted to remain in the EU and worked to frustrate Brexit. He lost his seat in 2019 because he did not respect the views of the people he represented.
“Only the Conservatives got Brexit done and will deliver on the people’s priorities in Hartlepool.”
The forthcoming Hartlepool vote to elect a new MP will bring to an end the longest wait for a by-election on record after the previous gap of 581 days was passed on March 5.
The seat has been held by Labour since it was established in 1974, with Lord Peter Mandelson, a former cabinet minister and one of the architects of New Labour, a previous incumbent.