LABOUR'S deputy leader Angela Rayner visited Teesside this weekend where she took a tour of Hartlepool marina and spoke to local businesses.

Ms Rayner is backing Dr Paul Williams in the by-election after the resignation of Mike Hill.

She joined the Labour candidate in Hartlepool on Sunday and left today, March 22. The pair visited the mass vaccine centre and Hartlepool Marina, where they spoke with business owners. 

"It was a beautiful morning in Hartlepool today, we really got to showcase the town," Mr Williams said. 

Ms Rayner, MP for Ashton, praised Hartlepool's community spirit and efforts in fighting the pandemic. 

She said: "The day we visited the vaccine centre the target was to reach over a thousand vaccines that day, which is the highest number that centre has been able to deliver. So they were doing a really stirling job.

"We went to see local businesses and spoke to passersby. It was really humbling because a lot of them knew Paul, which was really nice.

"You can see the people of Hartlepool cannot have their spirits dampened. It has been a really difficult year for everyone and seeing people come together in the way that they have is really heartening. That's us Northerners, that's what we do."

Mr Williams is a former Stockton South MP who was ousted by Boris Johnson’s landslide win in 2019. He was selected by the Labour Party as the constituency’s candidate after Mr Hill resigned from the Commons amid sexual harassment allegations.

Mr Williams, Ms Rayner and the Labour party generally have pledged to not take one vote for granted, including those in Hartlepool.

Hartlepool has voted Labour since 1964 but has lost votes in recent elections.

Mr Williams, who has been working on the frontline during the pandemic, said: "I want people to understand that I will be fighting for their vote, for them and their public services."

Ms Rayner said: "I think Dr Paul Williams being on the frontline for the next few months amongst his NHS colleagues has really shown that he really cares about Hartlepool. He's been there, he rolled his sleeves up and got back in there.

"He's really demonstrated that when push comes to shove he has been there for the people of Hartlepool and really cares about the area.

"And that does matter, people do want someone who is from the local area who cares about the area and will think nothing of putting themselves on the front line to protect the community."

Like Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Williams said he would not fight the Brexit vote and is keen to move forward. 

Mr Williams, who was an opponent of Brexit and previously backed a second referendum, is standing in the constituency in which almost 70 per cent voted to Leave in the 2016 referendum.

He said: "Brexit is done, we have left the EU. I want to make a real success of our future. Covid has changed things. People are insecure, they have job, health and economic insecurity.

"Now is the time for massive investment to bring services back to Hartlepool. But I also want investment in private sector on an industrial scale so we have skilled jobs and good employers."

Mr Williams says he will work collaboratively with any other parties or organisations who also want the best for Hartlepool. 

He added: "I'm a firm believer than when you are elected, you represent all of your constituents, not just those that voted for you, so I will work with anyone for Hartlepool."

Ms Rayner said: "People talk about the red wall and is this one of the red bricks? No, the people of Hartlepool are not a homogeneous group. They are not a political football. They deserve better than that and expect better.

"We were divided as a country over Brexit but now is the time to move forward."

Policing and the health service is high on Mr William's agenda. 

He said: "What happened to Sarah Everard was horrific and made me upset, but also so determined to play my part. We all have a role to play in protecting women. We have particular issues in Hartlepool as police have to take those arrested to Middlesbrough as the cells in Hartlepool are not open.

"This takes police off the street in Hartlepool."

Mr Williams says he wants to see the town's police station cells back in use as well as a crackdown on domestic abuse.

He added: "But you can't police your way out of everything. There needs to be a change in attitude and we must all work together to condemn violent actions."

It comes after Mr Williams came under fire over the weekend for a decade-old tweet where he asked about 'Tory MILFs'.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, he apologised again for his previous actions.

Dr Williams said on Friday that he “wouldn’t dream of making comments like this now” after the decade-old messages came to light.

Ms Rayner said: "The tweets from were unacceptable and Paul has apologised for them.

"He has done a lot for perinatal care when he was in parliament last as a colleague of his at the time, one of the things that inspired me the most is that he really fought for perinatal care and for women's health. As a doctor, he works in the profession and was very clear about the inequalities there. 

"So it's about what you do as well as what you say but you also have to recognise that if you said something in jest ten years ago you have to be accountable for that.

"In light of the circumstances and everyday misogyny, everyone should be looking at themselves now and making sure we redouble our efforts to understand how jokey comments can have a detrimental impact on the way women feel."

Ms Rayner added: "It's going to be a difficult election. Our result in 2019 is going to be not one to be proud of.

"We have lost votes in Hartlepool and we need to stop that. Hopefully, over the last 12 months, the people of Hartlepool have seen that me and Keir are a different leadership.

"The Labour Party is listening and we want them to come back. We want to earn the respect of their vote back and I think Dr Paul Williams is the right candidate to do that."