Dr Paul Williams, the former MP for Stockton South, has been announced as the Labour Party’s candidate for the upcoming Hartlepool parliamentary by-election.
He is a family doctor who has been working on the frontline during Covid, at Hartlepool’s One Life Centres and the Urgent Care Centre at Hartlepool hospital. He also served as an MP from 2017 to 2019.
“It’s an honour to have been selected for Hartlepool. It’s a brilliant town with fantastic people and a bright future. Working during this crisis, I’ve seen the NHS at its best and fighting for services at our local hospital would be my top priority as your MP.
“But the NHS isn’t being looked after properly by the Tories. They closed Hartlepool’s A&E in 2011 and other services have been taken away since. I’ll fight for our hospital and for the services we need,” Williams said.
The ex-MP was effectively chosen directly as a candidate by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) today, as he was the only applicant to be ‘longlisted’ by a panel of three.
It is understood that members of the local executive committee were organising to select Williams, their favoured candidate, and that those heading the local party approve of the approach taken by Labour nationally.
The Hartlepool Labour secretary sent an email, which was leaked, showing that they wanted a candidate shortlist comprising only Williams – though predicted in the letter that some in the party would “call foul”.
A party source described the move to longlist one candidate as “another Jenny Chapman special”, referring to Keir Starmer’s director of politics, who sources say wanted Williams as the candidate. The two were colleagues until 2019.
One member of Labour’s NEC told LabourList today that the decision not to put a diverse range of candidates to local members by shortlisting female and ethnic minority candidates was “pretty shocking”.
Commenting on the selection, 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.”
Some internal critics have pointed out that Starmer campaigned last year for the leadership promising to end candidate impositions by the NEC, which were widespread in recent years, partly due to snap general elections in 2017 and 2019.
A number of activists have called the Hartlepool selection a “stitch-up”, while others have argued that the process is justified because the local executive was in favour of it and because picking a candidate early would be advantageous to Labour.
Highlighting that it was an all-male candidate list of one, a Labour frontbencher remarked that “everyone is a feminist when it’s convenient”, telling LabourList: “Loads of women MPs are pissed off.”
Labour Women’s Network tweeted that it had written to Labour general secretary David Evans “to ask for assurances that solo male shortlists will not become a feature of by-election selections going forward“.
A spokesperson for Hartlepool Labour said: “Paul Williams was the standout choice of the CLP and we are delighted with this decision. We wanted a candidate in place early so we can use every day campaigning for Labour and put across our positive message.”
On his selection, Williams 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.”
Brenda Harrison, leader of Hartlepool Labour group, said: “I’m delighted that Paul has been selected as candidate and I know he will be a brilliant MP for our town. As a doctor he knows full well what we have all been through over the past year.
“He has worked on the frontline of the crisis as a Covid doctor and I’m just so thankful for all he has done for keeping the people of Hartlepool safe and well. I can’t think of anyone better to stand up for Hartlepool in parliament.”
The contest was triggered when Mike Hill resigned with immediate effect as Hartlepool MP on Tuesday. Hill is facing an employment tribunal hearing in May over sexual harassment claims that he strongly denies.