Hartlepool is unlikely to see a rerun of last year’s dramas in this May’s local elections. But this election will still decide the fate of the local Labour Party and test the fortunes of the Conservatives after last year’s triumph.
A year ago the parliamentary by election brought an onslaught of visits and job promises from the Tory Westminster big guns. The heavy artillery ensured not only Jill Mortimer’s parliamentary victory but also council wins for all the 13 Conservative candidates.
The Tory councillors formed a coalition with all but one of the Independent and Independent Union candidates, an arrangement that was merely a continuation of the existing alliance.
Last year due to a Boundaries Commission overhaul, all 36 of Hartlepool’s council seats were up for grabs. This May only one third of Hartlepool’s councillors face re-election – one in each ward. There is also the vacancy left by ceremonial Mayor Brenda Loynes who has passed away following a long battle with illness.
Three councillors are standing down- one Tory, one Labour and one Independent. Of the nine councillors facing re-election, half a dozen are Labour as well as one Conservative, one Independent and one Independent Union.
Shane Moore, council leader
Among those standing for re-election is Council Leader Shane Moore. He began his political career as a Conservative and lost a ward byelection as a Tory candidate in 2012. He later switched to UKIP, then with party comrades formed the Independent Group after UKIP’s image became tarnished with racism allegations. He and his colleagues later founded the Independent Union, before joining Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party. They returned to Independent Union after Brexit. The Independent Union now calls itself Hartlepool Independent Union. Just to be clear.
Britain First stands again
The Leader of the Labour Group, Brenda Harrison, does not have to stand for re-election this year. But her de Bruce ward colleague Rachel Creevy is running again and faces Anne-Marie Waters who heads up far right party For Britain.. Anti-Islam campaigner Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, has recently become a member. Waters stood in the Hartlepool election last year, encouraged by the win of her colleague Karen King in 2019, but failed to gain a seat. With less national publicity buoying up the Conservative candidates this time round, will Waters achieve the council foothold she craves?
Jennifer Elliott, Labour, and Bob Buchan, Independent (now Conservative)
A Labour candidate who was new to the Council last year and has spent her tenure under a cloud of controversy is Jennifer Elliott. In 2021 she won her seat by just 10 votes, defeating Independent Union councillor Bob Buchan. The losing councillor launched a High Court bid to void the result, claiming that a statement in Elliott’s election material was “misleading and damaging”. Elliott argued to court that the comment in question – that Buchan had voted for an unpopular housing development plan – was a genuine mistake as Buchan’s proxy had voted for it. After losing his case Buchan had to pay costs of £48,000 without the financial backing of his party. His supporters have run a year-long Facebook campaign attacking Elliott over the case.
Buchan is standing against Elliott again this year, this time as a Conservative.
Ray Martin-Wells and Andrew Martin-Wells
Buchan’s spokesperson during the court action was Ray Martin-Wells, Honorary President of the local Conservative Association. With a background as company director of several firms in the construction sector, Martin-Wells was a longstanding councillor before standing down in 2018. He currently acts on behalf of Wynyard Park, a private residential estate. The ultimate controlling party of Wynyard Park Ltd is Chris Musgrave, the power behind the massive Wynyard property development. Both Martin-Wells and Musgrave received the Freedom of the Borough honour last year,
In the May election Ray’s husband, Andrew Martin-Wells, is a Conservative candidate. Records show that Andrew Martin-Wells has run in three previous council elections since 2015, failing to win a seat.
Andrew Martin-Wells is his husband’s business partner, in MW Xperts LLP, established a month before Ray Martin-Wells’ departure from the Council, and MWX Special Projects Ltd, incorporated in January last year.
Labour and Conservatives both face a litmus test. Will the new Tory candidates build on last year’s success and seize six Labour seats? Or will Labour increase its hold as the cost of living crisis hits home? Time will tell.