Sunday, 9 May 2021

Boris Johnson arrives in Hartlepool for final by-election push as crowd flocks for selfies

Boris Johnson: ‘Good chance’ to ‘dispense’ 1m+ from June 21st

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The crowd-pleasing prime minister shrugged off recent scandals to pose for selfies with the crowds on a wet Bank Holiday Monday. Labour has held the town in north-east England since 1964, with majorities of more than 10,000 as recently as 2001 when New Labour architect Peter Mandelson was MP.

But this huge cushion has been chipped away over successive elections – with former Labour MP Mike Hill winning it with just 39 percent of the vote in 2019.

Mr Hill stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation, which he denies.

Many pundits put the 2019 victory down to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party splitting the vote after it finished third in the race.

But with Brexit done, the party is expected to gain little traction in Thursday’s vote.

The closeness of the race prompted the prime minister to back the Tory candidate Jill Mortimer in a whistlestop tour of the constituency on Monday.

And, several political commentators, pointed out that Mr Johnson’s popularity with the general public remained undimmed despite recent furore.

Dan Hodges wrote: “One of the problems for Boris’s opponents is they genuinely can’t believe he’s popular with people.

“And because they don’t believe it they don’t try to understand it.”

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Speaking in the constituency, he said the Conservatives faced a “tough fight” to win the vote as he backed Ms Mortimer – a farmer and local councillor from North Yorkshire.

He said: “I have always believed that it was going to be a tough fight and I still believe that is the case.”

He hoped people would focus on the “massive opportunities” the Tories had brought by delivering on Brexit – a policy strongly backed by local people.

The prime minister, asked if he was worried he might have a negative effect on the election, said: “I think that people will focus on the issues that matter to them.

“That is the vaccine rollout, the chances of our economy bouncing back really strongly in the second half of this year, what we are doing to make sure that happens.”

Mr Johnson spoke to diners at the Surfside Fish Bar and Restaurant who were braving the elements to eat or sip coffees outside as the rain started to fall at lunchtime.

The popular cafe is in Seaton Carew and overlooks the North Sea close to the spot where canoe man John Darwin faked his own death in 2002.

Ms Mortimer says the coastal town has struggled due to being “taken for granted” by Labour and is promising to bring in jobs and investment to get Hartlepool “back on track”.

Labour candidate Paul Williams, meanwhile, has faced criticism locally for his strong support for EU membership in the referendum.

And he was forced to apologise during the campaign for a historical tweet referring to “Tory milfs”.

A 48-year-old doctor has also been blamed for reductions in local health services – though he insists he played only a minor part in decisions as a health administrator and has since fought to restore them.

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