Restoring Hartlepool’s faith in party politics

“Only the Green Party has a detailed plan for a green revolution and only the Green Party has the will to see it through.” Green Party candidate for this year’s Hartlepool by-election Rachel Featherstone details how green policy could turn things around for the ex-industrial town.

Rachel Featherstone

Rachel Featherstone, Dawn Furness

Rachel Featherstone

I'm standing for the Green Party in this by-election because I believe we have a lot to offer Hartlepool. Like many towns across England and Wales, Hartlepool has suffered from deindustrialisation and neglect under both Labour and Conservative governments. Green policies offer hope through real change.

The Hartlepool by-election is receiving national attention because it is the first to be held since the election of the Johnson government in 2019. It is a test of feeling in the 'Red Wall' which crumbled so spectacularly during the last election. Since then, the Government has agreed a very poor Brexit deal – almost 70 per cent of voters in Hartlepool voted Leave – has overseen the deaths of 130,000 people from COVID-19 and been mired in scandal and accusations of corruption. Yet several opinion polls suggest they will take yet another Red Wall seat from Labour.

Hartlepool suffers from many of the same problems as other ex-industrial towns. Cuts have hit local services hard. In 2011, the town's A&E and consultant-led maternity service were shifted to North Tees Trust in Stockton. In 2019, it was announced there would be no further births at Hartlepool hospital. Public transport remains woefully inadequate. To get to Darlington or Durham – both within a 40 minute drive – takes two trains or buses and almost two hours at most times of the day.

At 8.1 per cent, Hartlepool has almost twice the national unemployment rate. One-quarter of children in the town live in poverty and in some wards life expectancy is over ten years lower than the English average. Meanwhile, Labour and socialist councillors struggle with Conservative and Brexit supporting councillors for control of the council. No overall control is a frequent result.

I think that the lack of local candidates standing in this by-election is telling. Out of 16 candidates, only the Heritage Party candidate and two of the independents live in Hartlepool. This is a town that has, unsurprisingly, lost faith in party politics, lost faith in a political class that ignores them, lost faith in an electoral system that discounts a majority of their votes. 

Only the Green Party has plans to radically reform our political system. Replacing First Past the Post with a proportional electoral system – one that represents the views of Hartlepool residents in Parliament – should be just the start. The first campaign I was ever involved in, years before I joined the Green Party, was the campaign to establish a North East Assembly. Though that campaign failed, I think the appetite to devolve power to the regions is now much greater. With more control over local transport, education and training and health provision, regions could utilise their resources more effectively and begin to build a better future for their citizens. Regional assemblies would be more responsive to residents, have more leverage when demanding funding and could do a lot to address regional inequalities in employment, health and transportation.

A recent poll by Survation showed 67 per cent of Hartlepool residents want the Government to prioritise investing in public services over paying off the deficit and 57 per cent want Royal Mail to be re-nationalised. Greens have long argued that the 40-year experiment with privatisation must end. It has drained investment out of our public services and into the private, too often offshore, bank accounts of shareholders and grotesquely overpaid executives. These services, including transport, water, energy and health, should be returned to public control and properly resourced to serve the needs of communities like Hartlepool.

A longstanding Green Party policy that would have an immediate and enormous impact on Hartlepool is the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). A guaranteed income for every person, regardless of employment status, would transform the town. Households would be lifted out of poverty. Training, education and starting a business would suddenly become a possibility for many people who could only have dreamed of such opportunity. The extra spending power would stimulate the local economy and create jobs.

And, of course, the most pressing issue for all of us is the climate emergency. Despite claiming that the UK is world leading on climate issues, we are still building roads instead of investing in public transport, still building homes without solar panels and effective insulation, still expanding airports, still subsidising fossil fuel extraction and still fetishising economic growth. We need a just transition to a sustainable economy, cutting emissions, protecting and expanding biodiversity and creating green jobs. Only the Green Party has a detailed plan for a green revolution and only the Green Party has the will to see it through.

We may not win this by-election but every Green vote cast is a vote for real change. A vote for political reform, investment in public services, real action on poverty and a call to arms against climate breakdown.