The relationship between local and national politics can often be an uneasy one. A swinging pendulum, if you like. It is only twelve months since the people of Hartlepool elected a Conservative to parliament for the first time in history. At just under 7,000, Jill Mortimer’s is a comfortable majority.
Oddly, there’s no mention of this remarkable victory in the election leaflet of at least one Tory hopeful in the forthcoming council elections. In fact, there’s not much sign of hope at all in the election leaflet of Victoria ward candidate, Jane Reeve.
“This Thursday, please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster, we are local and proud of where we live [sic]”
In fact, we have, as yet unverified, reports that this message has been adopted by a number of Conservative candidates across the town. These are truly unhappy people.
Yet it’s only a month since The Times published an article predicting a good result for Conservative candidates in the north. Jane Reeve clearly doesn’t share their optimism, and her campaign appears to rely on the well-worn tactic of ‘bash Labour, win seat’.
Yet even bashing Labour here is a bit, well …. laboured. Presumably she is hoping that the electorate will have forgotten that, prior to the Conservatives taking control of the council, they ran it in coalition with the Brexit Party from late 2019 onwards.
Presumably she will be hoping that they will have forgotten that the current council leader, independent Shane Moore, was, until 2014, chair of the local Conservatives, before joining UKIP and then the Brexit Party.
But the real tawdriness of this election message is in its opening statement. It is true that Hartlepool has high council tax rates. So do all of the councils in the Tees Valley, and Hartlepool’s is not the highest.
This region continues to have high unemployment, and after years of depopulation, has a relatively high elderly population, both of which contribute to high demand for council administered welfare services. But Reeve prefers to insinuate that the high council tax is the result of the profligacy of previous Labour-led councils.
In February this year (according to the Hartlepool Mail), the council voted by a majority to increase council tax by 1.9%. Those unhappy with the rise, however, do not appear to have been tax-hating Tories, however. The Gazette reports, that several councillors had lobbied the government on the issue. One independent councillor, Paddy Brown, said:
“We are already looking at cuts to make up the remaining approximately £7million, but unless the government increase our funding back to where it was, there simply wouldn’t be enough services left to cut!
“We’re now getting down to the wire so I am writing to my councillor colleagues to invite them to travel down to Westminster and ask directly for our funding to return to the levels they were at prior to the £22million cut from our annual budget.”
Jane Reeve, as it appears from her leaflet, will fight for “better services, more police” on the one hand, and lower council tax on the other. Perhaps the ‘mistakes in Westminster’ that she alludes to are not just sleaze, cronyism and lockdown parties, but extend to the £22 million cut in in the annual budget as well.
But, as they say, it’s not over until all the votes are counted. So, it could be that the Labour – EU flag thing at the bottom of the page is enough to bring the Brexiters flocking to her cause, such as it is.