Dr Paul Williams in Hartlepool: “We’re outside the EU, I don’t want to go back”

Sienna Rodgers

Dr Paul Williams, Labour’s candidate for the Hartlepool by-election taking place on May 6th, has told LabourList in an exclusive interview that he would not campaign to rejoin the European Union as “I don’t want to go back”.

Labour has resolved not to work to see the UK rejoin the EU, with Keir Starmer saying there is “no case” for the move. Williams, who was MP for Stockton South between 2017 and 2019, says he agrees with the stance.

Asked whether he would rule out joining any campaign to reverse the 2016 referendum result, the Labour candidate – who, as an MP, broke the whip to oppose Brexit and support a fresh EU referendum – said: “I have no desire to be going back.

“By saying that, I mean going back in time in terms of politics, but also going back into the European Union. We’re outside of the European Union, I don’t want to go back. I want to make a success of where we find ourselves now.”

Williams added: “If I’m fortunate enough for the people of Hartlepool to choose me as their MP, I’m going to be making sure that it’s Hartlepool that sees the most success from where we find ourselves now.”

As the MP for Stockton South, Williams was a key ‘People’s Vote’ campaigner and a champion of anti-Brexit organisation ‘Best for Britain’. Almost 70% of Hartlepool residents voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

A Survation poll commissioned by the party-affiliated trade union CWU this week indicated that holding onto the Westminster seat following the sudden resignation of former incumbent Mike Hill would be an uphill struggle for Labour.

In 2019, Labour won it with 37% of the vote, when the pro-Brexit vote was split between the Tories and the Brexit Party, each receiving 28.9% and 25.8% of the vote respectively. The new poll suggested the Tories now have a seven-point lead.

“I mean obviously you prefer to be ahead in polls than behind. But actually what it showed is that of the 502 people that they called, 200 either hadn’t yet decided or wouldn’t say. That chimes very much with what we’re hearing on the doorstep.

“It’s an election that’s there to be won for us with the right, positive campaign, and people are really interested on the doorstep in the issues… If we get our messages right with people, then I think that this is there to be won,” Williams said.

Asked how he hopes to ensure a Labour win, the candidate told LabourList: “You never tell the people of Hartlepool what to do – you’ll find that if you come here, people are very proud of our town and we don’t like to be told what to do.”

He said Hartlepool voters “know me as a local doctor” rather than an ex-MP, as he was the local GP leader and has been seen running Covid clinics in the area. “People aren’t viewing me as being an outsider at all, they see me as being of this town.”

Williams reported having a “really positive plan” for the area. Its first theme is improving health services, which have moved away from Hartlepool due to cuts, forcing residents to travel out of town for hospital appointments.

The second part of his plan relates to policing and crime, with a pledge specifically “to reopen the cells in the police station” that have been lost, “to reintroduce community policing” and to work with an antisocial behaviour taskforce.

Third is jobs, such as those locally under threat at Liberty Steel and those at the nuclear power station recently visited by Starmer. Fourth is “how I would behave as an MP”, particularly opening a constituency office in the town.

An added complication in the Hartlepool by-election, as with all local, mayoral and other elections being held on May 6th, is that coronavirus rules have an impact on campaigning on the ground – usually one of Labour’s key strengths.

“We don’t want people from other regions in the country coming here, unless, of course, it’s on specially organised visits and it’s done in a Covid-secure way,” Williams confirmed to LabourList when asked about visiting Labour activists.

“But people throughout the country can help us with Dialogue [Labour’s phonebanking app] and people from the region are able to come here. We have teams of people out in a Covid- secure way, all wearing face coverings, all two meters apart from each other.

“We’re two meters apart from people on the doorstep as well. And we’ve been having lots of teams going out every day… I’d really ask people who can to help, even if it’s just lending an hour or two to this campaign.

“Every single vote here is going to make a difference. I think the [Survation] poll that we’ve seen shows that, and Labour activists can really help by using Dialogue.”

Family doctor and ex-MP Dr Paul Williams was announced as the Labour candidate for the upcoming Hartlepool parliamentary by-election last month after he was the only applicant to be ‘longlisted’ by a panel of three.

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