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Starmer to join by-election campaign trail in Hartlepool

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - Credit: Aaron Chown

Sir Keir Starmer will campaign in Hartlepool on Tuesday ahead of a by-election battle which will be a key test of his Labour leadership.

The May 6 contest will give an indication of whether the Labour leader can shore up support in the party’s former industrial heartlands after large sections of the so-called “red wall” crumbled in the 2019 general election.

Ahead of the visit Sir Keir highlighted a series of local issues and the work candidate Paul Williams has done as a frontline doctor during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hartlepool is a seat long held by Labour and the party fought off a strong Conservative and Brexit Party challenge at the 2019 general election, although their majority was reduced to just under 3,600, down from 7,650 in 2017.

The contest was triggered after Mike Hill quit as an MP and will take place alongside a series of local elections in England and votes for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.

Ahead of the trip, the Labour leader said Dr Williams “knows first-hand how the Conservatives are letting down the NHS”.

He blamed the Tories for a “dismal” record of cuts in public services in the town over the past decade.

“When they came to power there was an A&E in Hartlepool, a magistrates’ court in the town, and a full custody suite at the police station,” Sir Keir said.

“That has all gone and people feel that sense of loss.”

Sir Keir will hope a win in Hartlepool and a strong showing in the other May 6 elections will boost Labour morale after Boris Johnson’s Tories won a series of seats in northern England in 2019.

As part of Labour’s May campaign, shadow cabinet ministers and police and crime commissioner candidates have urged the Tories to back a new law to give victims of crime greater rights.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: “Victims of violent crime including rape, assault and domestic violence are losing all faith in the justice system as they face delays of up to four years to get their day in court.

“Labour is demanding that the Conservatives finally introduce policies which support victims rather than letting criminals off the hook.”

The party also accused the Conservatives of presiding over five years of decline in post-16 education, with a 25% decline in further education and skills courses since 2015.

Among 16 to 19-year-olds, the number of learners from the most deprived backgrounds has fallen nearly 40%.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “The ability to train and retrain will be essential to securing our economy, yet successive Conservative governments have hollowed out the infrastructure needed to reskill workers after this pandemic.”