Hartlepool by-election, 2004
On 23 July 2004, the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool, in England, Peter Mandelson (Labour), was nominated as the United Kingdom's new European Commissioner. On 8 September he accepted the office of Steward of the Manor of Northstead, thereby disqualifying himself from Parliament and causing a by-election. Polling took place on 30 September.
It was the last of six by-elections which were held during the 2001–2005 parliament.
Out of a registered electorate of 68,517, there were 31,362 valid votes, making a turnout of 45.77%. This was the highest by-election turnout since the Romsey by-election in May 2000.
The Labour Party candidate Iain Wright won the seat with a majority of 2,033, a substantially reduced majority. The Liberal Democrat vote more than doubled, leaving them a close second. The United Kingdom Independence Party held their deposit and beat the Conservatives into third place. This marked the first time they had come third in a by-election (and followed a successful European election in June 2004 in which they had come third UK-wide and won 12 seats). It would be over six years before they ever improved on this position, when they took second place at Barnsley Central in 2011. They would go on to win a by-election for the first time a little over a decade after the Hartlepool contest in Clacton, in October 2014.
The Conservative vote in Hartlepool dropped considerably, leaving them in fourth place for the first time in an English by-election since Liverpool Walton in 1991.
|Hartlepool by-election, 2004|
|Liberal Democrat||Jody Dunn||10,719||34.2||+19.2|
|National Front||John Starkey||246||0.8|
|Independent (Fathers 4 Justice)||Peter Watson||139||0.4|
|Socialist Labour||Christopher Herriot||95||0.3||-2.1|
|Common Good||Rev Dick Rodgers||91||0.3|
|Monster Raving Loony||Alan Hope||80||0.3|
|Independent (Rainbow)||Ronnie Carroll||45||0.1|
|English Democrats||Ed Abrams||41||0.1|
Preceding by-elections had seen the Liberal Democrats come from third place to beat the Conservative Party, and in Brent East and Leicester South take seats from Labour. The seat was safer (judging by the 2001 result) than Leicester but was vulnerable to swings such as achieved in Brent, or in Birmingham Hodge Hill where the Lib Dems narrowly failed to win.
In the event the Liberal Democrats were not quite able to repeat these performances. Their campaign suffered by the choice of a candidate who was not from Hartlepool, while the Labour candidate had been born and brought up in the town. In addition the Liberal Democrat candidate made reference, on a campaign blog, to having canvassed a street where everyone she met "was either drunk, flanked by an angry dog, or undressed"; this happened despite a Lib Dem minder, Ed Fordham, having been appointed by the party's Campaigns Department to proof-read Dunn's blog before any posts went up. Fordham removed a reference to some of the people canvassed being Labour supporters, but he thought the rest of the comment was fine. Labour gave wide publicity to this remark and asserted that it was an insult to the people of Hartlepool. Dunn defended her remarks on the Today programme, in a performance that was perceived to be unconvincing, so Labour party vans toured the constituency playing her Today interview on loudspeakers.
Hartlepool had no significant ethnic minority vote, which had been present in the other three by-elections. The Liberal Democrats were nevertheless content to claim the large swing to them and the Conservatives' fourth place, established the Lib Dems as the main opposition party to Labour. The UK Independence Party did well in Hartlepool with a local candidate, and their message of opposition to European Union fishing rules was a popular one in a port town.
The Conservatives dropped from second place at the 2001 general election to fourth place, their worst place in an English by-election since the Liverpool Walton by-election, 1991
Labour regarded the result as good news for them as it came at the end of a very long campaign (effectively 71 days) and with a swing markedly smaller than in other seats over the previous year. Labour also regarded the result – along with that in Hodge Hill – as a vindication of their decision to aggressively attack the Liberal Democrats and essentially ignore the Conservative challenge.
From the 2001 general election.
|General Election 2001: Hartlepool|
|Liberal Democrat||Nigel Boddy||5,717||15.0||+1.0|
|Socialist Labour||Arthur Scargill||912||2.4||N/A|
- Greg Hurst, Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw (Politico's, London, 2006) p.196
- Greg Hurst, Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw (Politico's, London, 2006) p.197