Battle for Hartlepool begins as Mandelson leaves Westminster

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Indy Politics

The former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson formally stepped down as a Member of Parliament yesterday to take up his new position as a European Commissioner.

The former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson formally stepped down as a Member of Parliament yesterday to take up his new position as a European Commissioner.

Mr Mandelson's departure from the House of Commons will trigger a by-election in his Hartlepool constituency.

Although normally a safe seat for Labour, Hartlepool has seen vigorous campaigning by opposition parties over the summer, with the Liberal Democrats particularly hopeful of making a significant dent in Mr Mandelson's 14,571 majority.

Mr Mandelson ended his 12-year career at Westminster by the arcane parliamentary process of applying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, for appointment to the office of Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

He will take up his position as trade commissioner in Brussels on 1 November. A writ to launch the campaign for the Hartlepool by-election is expected to be moved in the Commons over the next few days.

There is much speculation at Westminster that Labour may choose to stage the poll on 30 September, the last day of the party's conference in Brighton, to benefit from the week of intense media attention.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, visited Hartlepool yesterday to campaign on behalf of the Labour candidate, Ian Wright. Asked what Labour majority he would accept in the forthcoming poll, Mr Blunkett replied: "In any election, any party is happy with a majority of one, but we are aiming to do better than that." Mr Blunkett said he wasconfident voters would elect Mr Wright to replace the former Northern Ireland Secretary. He added: "I think the people of Hartlepool have basic, northern common sense."

In the 2001 general election, Mr Mandelson won the seat with a big majority over the Tory candidate. The Liberal Democrats finished third, but after recent successes in by-elections in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill, the party will see itself as Labour's main challenger.

2001 election result: Peter Mandelson (Lab) 22,506 (59.15%); Gus Robinson (C) 7,935 (20.85%); Nigel Boddy (LD) 5,717 (15.02%); Arthur Scargill (Socialist Lab) 912 (2.4%); Ian Cameron (Ind) 557 (1.46%); John Booth (Ind) 424 (1.11%). Turnout 56.25%.

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