Yorkshire politicians Jill Mortimer and Thelma Walker bid to win Hartlepool by-election in Keir Starmer's first ballot box test

Two Yorkshire politicians will be among the main contenders in the first major ballot box test of Keir Starmer's leadership when a by-election takes place in a key northern 'red wall' constituency.

North Yorkshire farmer and district councillor Jill Mortimer has been chosen as the Conservatives' candidate for Hartlepool and will hope to return a Tory MP in the town for the first time since the 1960s.

And it emerged yesterday that Thelma Walker, who served as Labour MP for Colne Valley in West Yorkshire for two years and left the party last year, will be bidding to win the seat for the newly-formed Northern Independence Party.

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Conservative party co-chair Amanda Milling with Jill Mortimer, the party's candidate for the Hartlepool by-election

Sir Keir will make his first visit as part of the Hartlepool by-election campaign today, where he will say that Labour’s candidate Dr Paul Williams will be "a tireless champion for the great town of Hartlepool".

The by-election will take place alongside the local elections on May 6 after Mike Hill resigned as MP for the north east constituency earlier this month.

He was suspended by Labour in September 2019 over allegations he sexually harassed a woman, but had the whip restored to contest the general election two months later.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Hill claimed £2,000 on parliamentary expenses for the excess on his employment liability policy as he looked to fight the allegations.

Hartlepool is a seat long held by Labour and the party fought off a strong Conservative and Brexit Party challenge at the 2019 general election, although their majority was reduced to just under 3,600, down from 7,650 in 2017.

The contest will be the first parliamentary by-election held since Sir Keir took over from Jeremy Corbyn last year.

Jill Mortimer was announced as the Conservative candidate on Friday night. A farmer and district councillor on Tory-run Hambleton council, she contested the Leeds East seat against Labour in the 2019 General Election but lost by 5,531 votes to sitting MP Richard Burgon.

Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling said she would be an "excellent MP for Hartlepool".

She said: “Jill’s vision for Hartlepool will deliver on the people’s priorities and she will fight to ensure the Government builds on the recent positive announcements for the area, not least the new Tees freeport, which includes the Port of Hartlepool and means we can cut red tape to attract new investment.

“However, we are also under no illusions it will be a tough fight to win the seat as a Conservative.

“But Jill’s campaign will show how Hartlepool has been let down by the Labour Party for decades and only a Conservative MP can serve the best interests of the town as it builds back better from the pandemic.”

Former Labour MP Thelma Walker is standing for the Northern Independence Party (NIP), described as "a democratic socialist party, who are committed to uplifting the voices of our members".

Its website says: "We were founded in 2020 to combat the injustice of the north/south divide. We stand opposed to all forms of ideology based on hatred and bigotry."

She was MP for Colne Valley between 2017 and 2019 before being ousted by the Conservatives and prior to her political career worked as a teacher for 34 years and later as an independent consultant.

She was named as the NIP candidate after being backed by 69.7 per cent of the vote.

In an interview with The Yorkshire Post last month, former Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell paid tribute to Ms Walker and described his disappointment at her losing her seat in 2019.

He said: "The tragedy for me is that people like Thelma Walker, who was possibly one of the best constituency MPs I've ever come across, but also because of her contribution, particularly on education on the select committee, we lost people like that and that for me that was quite devastating.

"That was the worst part of the election night, apart from I always get the job of going to watch the exit polls, I get the short straw on that one, the worst moment on that night was the loss of Thelma because she was my Parliamentary Private Secretary. And she just deserved to stay on, she was such a good MP."

Today Keir Starmer will visit Hartlepool's nuclear power station in support of Dr Williams, a former MP for Stockton South who has continued to work shifts in Covid clinics in the town alongside his campaigning.

Speaking ahead of the visit, said: “Dr Paul has been on the frontline during this pandemic. He knows first-hand how the Conservatives are letting down the NHS. They neglected the NHS and it went into this crisis without the support it needed.

“The Tory record here is dismal, and people need to look at what they have actually done over the past decade. When they came to power there was an A&E in Hartlepool, a magistrates’ court in the town, and a full custody suite at the police station. That has all gone and people feel that sense of loss."