Peter Mandelson 'excited' for the future of Labour and Hartlepool as he approaches 30 years since he was elected town’s MP

Ex Hartlepool MP Lord Peter Madelson, left, with Labour by-election candidate Dr Paul Williams during campaigning in the town.Ex Hartlepool MP Lord Peter Madelson, left, with Labour by-election candidate Dr Paul Williams during campaigning in the town.
Ex Hartlepool MP Lord Peter Madelson, left, with Labour by-election candidate Dr Paul Williams during campaigning in the town.
The UK is approaching 25 years since the New Labour landslide of 1997.

But Hartlepool is also nearing its own landmark of 30 years since it elected Peter Mandelson, one of the project’s key architects.

Now officially known as Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool and Foy, the former TV producer took up the town’s House of Commons seat for the Labour Party in April 1992, just in time to witness first-hand the slow self-destruction of John Major’s Conservative government.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Five years later he was a key plank in the government of Tony Blair, who represented the neighbouring Sedgefield constituency, which swept to power in the largest electoral victory in the party’s history.

Britain and the North East has changed a lot in the last three decades, with both Blair and Mandelson’s former bases now fallen to the Tories.

Read More
Tributes placed at fatal Hartlepool bus collision scene as police appeal for wit...

But the former cabinet minister believes his party, which lost its Parliamentary hold of Hartlepool in last May’s by-election, is now “getting its mojo back” after years in the political wilderness.

"I was disappointed by the by-election result, but it didn’t surprise me because the Labour Party had gone walkabout, nationally under Jeremy Corbyn but locally as well,” he said, reflecting on the snap poll triggered by the resignation of sitting MP Mike Hill over sexual harassment claims.

"People felt the Labour Party in Hartlepool had lost it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"But I’m excited now it feels like the Labour Party in Hartlepool has been restored, returned to its roots and is now back in the mainstream.”

Mandelson admits that his own initial forays into the town were not all smooth sailing, comparing his efforts to make the leap from Labour’s director of communications to MP to a “courtship” between himself and the town.

"People didn’t know who I was, some eyed me with suspicion, some people thought I was just a carpetbagger and some people thought I was bringing fresh energy to the town,” he said, remembering the campaign, while insisting he was not “imposed” as the party’s candidate.

“I don’t think people were hostile, but they were sceptical and I had to work very hard to win people’s support and confidence.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The Labour Party then was very representative of the town and the Labour Party really was an organisation that was part of the town, woven into its fabric.

"And the party is getting back to that position in the town now, I’m glad to say.”

Once a Labour stronghold, the party has been under the cosh in Hartlepool since 2019, when it lost control of the Hartlepool Borough Council chamber to a coalition administration.

However, the current situation bears at least a passing resemblance to the political landscape Mandelson found when he visited the town for the first time, with support for Labour on the slide.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Back then the party was also led by a centrist leader trying to leave behind past battles which had hindered it in elections in John Smith, until his death of a heart attack in 1994 paved the way for Blair to step up.

And asked whether by the time polls opened in 1997 the coming New Labour landslide felt like an inevitability, Mandelson admits “it did a bit”.

He added: “We had had a Conservative government under John Major which had been really beaten up by divisions in the party, weak leadership and internal arguments.

"They had been in power do long they had lost their sense of direction and purpose.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"In 1997 Labour offered a real alternative and elections are all about choices.

"No matter what you think of the government of the day, if you don’t think the opposition will do better you will stick with the people you know, which had happened in successive elections.”

"Sharp elbows” helped the fight for constituency cash and he points to huge overhauls and improvements in the town’s schools as evidence of his success in office.

But he also resigned twice from Mr Blair’s front bench during his time as MP before standing down in 2004 to take a European Commission role.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He says one of his main political regrets is that he didn’t stay in Hartlepool, adding: "I wish I had been the town’s MP for longer – 12 years wasn’t long enough for what I wanted to do.

"But I was asked to represent the country in Europe and become a trade commissioner and was transported to the rest of the world, but I missed the town during that time.

"And when I was brought back into government during the global financial crisis I couldn’t have my constituency back, so I went to the House of Lords instead.”

One apocryphal tale which has dogged Lord Mandelson since his time in the town is an incident in which it was claimed he mistook the mushy peas in a fish and chip shop for Mexican delicacy guacamole.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Although thoroughly debunked since, even being referenced by Hartlepool’s sitting Conservative MP Jill Mortimer, in her maiden speech to the House of Commons, the former Northern Ireland Secretary claims it simply makes him “laugh” – and even admits it has become an “obligatory” question to round off an interview with.

But a more pressing question, perhaps, is whether a future Labour Government may once again call on his services, as Gordon Brown did in 2008.

"I work hard whenever I can for the party and to help it shape up for the next election and I’m very encouraged by what’s happening,” he said.

"I will be happy enough to see a Labour government in power and not necessarily be a member of it.”

A message from the editor:

Support our journalism and subscribe to this website to enjoy unlimited access to news, sport, retro, daily puzzles and more online.

With a digital subscription, you can read more than five articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters.

Click ‘Subscribe’ in the menu to find out more and sign up.