The Hartlepool by-election is a big moment in British politics. If Labour retains the seat, it will take a lot of heat off Keir Starmer, whose rocky patch as leader continues. If the Tories win, it would likely be politically fatal for the Labour leader. He would either continue on, wounded almost certainly beyond repair, or Labour would get rid of him and replace him with someone much worse. In terms of red wall dominance, the Tories taking Peter Mandelson’s old seat would be highly symbolic as well.
Therefore, the prize at stake here for the Conservatives is huge. Capture Hartlepool and the next general election looks to be theirs for the taking. This is why candidate selection is vital for them – and why the right person to win the seat for the party is staring them in the face. In fact, this candidate is so obvious, it would be mad of the Tories not to select him: Richard Tice.
Tice managed to get 10,603 votes as the Brexit Party candidate in the 2019 general election, winning over 25 per cent of the vote. Given Labour only retained the seat with a 3,595 majority, he could well have cost the Tories the seat. Tice has already threatened to stand in this by-election – which makes it all the more important that the Tories do everything they can to convince him to join their ranks.
Not only would the Conservatives have a much better chance of taking Hartlepool with Tice as their candidate, it would heal a rift on the right of British politics that has raged for several decades. With Farage deciding to retire from politics, Tice is the new leader of the Reform Party. If the Tories lured him into their fold, that would effectively kill Reform dead. While a Farage-free Reform won’t be much of a threat to the Tories in any future elections, they could continue to be a thorn in their side, much like the Greens are to Labour; never big enough to be a real problem but niggling away at you in marginal seats. The Hartlepool by-election and Tice’s threat to stand as a candidate is the perfect example of this in action.
If I was working in Tory HQ, I would suggest the leadership do everything they can to lure Tice over. Hell, say he’ll get a peerage if he loses. It’s probably that existentially important.
As Peter Mandelson himself has said, ‘Labour can’t take Hartlepool for granted. Neither can the Tories’. This by-election has landed in the Tories’ lap – it is almost tailor-made for them. They can kill Starmer’s leadership, establish themselves further inside the red wall and unite the right by killing the Reform Party, all in one go. Three birds with one stone.
What will stop this from happening is party tribalism. Tice isn’t a Tory, so why would we hand him the opportunity of a seat, those in the Conservative tent will ask. Think of all the local people who have delivered leaflets in the rain over the years – why would we chuck them aside for a man who is the leader of a whole different party? But this is the kind of rubbish that holds the Labour Party back. The need for party purity. Do the Tory thing and focus on winning at all costs.
Think about it this way: which person on the right has the best chance of winning Hartlepool in less than two months’ time, hands down? Again, that’s before you even get into all the other advantages that making Tice a Tory hands you.
I don’t really have much skin in this game. If I could choose what happens in Hartlepool, I would have the Tories pick someone unremarkable; have Tice run as a Reform candidate; and see Labour come through the middle with a stonking by-election victory. I like Starmer and don’t want him to be inflicted with the damage losing Hartlepool would bring. I also fear Labour being taken over again by the loony left. But overall, I’m just an observer in all of this.
But if even I can see Tice as being the obvious choice, surely those who actually want the Tories to win in May can see it too? If not, your party politics is blinding you to reality. I have never met Richard Tice and have no idea whatsoever whether he would even consider such an idea. But I do know that for the Tories not to find out would constitute a massive tactical error.