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The Telegraph

Labour’s Hartlepool candidate accused of ‘desperate’ approach over St George’s cross posters

Labour’s candidate in the Hartlepool by-election has been accused of “desperate” tactics to win back “Red Wall” voters by handing out St George’s cross flyers to put in their windows. Posters handed out late last week wished voters “Happy St George’s Day from Dr Paul Williams and the Labour team”. The flyers said: “Display this poster with pride in your window. Please enjoy St George’s Day in a Covid-secure way, helping us all defeat the virus together.” Jake Berry, the chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, who was campaigning in the seat, said: “This Metropolitan elite Labour party is insulting the intelligence of Northern voters by thinking that they will support Labour by just putting a St George’s flag on a leaflet. This won’t change the mind of voters about Labour’s patriotism.” Richard Tice, the leader of the Reform Party, which is standing a candidate in the by-election, described the leaflets as a “last desperate throw of the dice by Labour’s Paul Williams”. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has been criticised by the Left for trying to move Labour in a more patriotic direction by focusing more on British values and the union flag. Former shadow cabinet ministers Clive Lewis and Richard Burgeon have warned that the plan risks alienating young and black and minority ethnic voters. However, some of the party’s former MPs defended the strategy. Gareth Snell, the ex-MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, told The Guardian that people should realise how critical some of the issues were for some voters and that patriotism should not be conflated with xenophobia. “I don’t think some of the criticism that came out… that suggested that this is just a move towards nationalism is fair at all because there is a clear and distinct difference between patriotism and nationalism,” he said. “Clement Attlee and Denis Healey both wore uniforms and took pride in their country, and no one would consider them nationalists.” The flyers inevitably drew comparison with the row at the Rochester by-election in 2014 when the Labour MP Emily Thornberry, now the shadow trade secretary, posted an image of a flag-draped house on Twitter with the caption: “Image from Rochester”. Ms Thornberry was forced to quit the shadow Cabinet at the time and admitted she had “made a mistake” and apologised “if she had upset or insulted anybody”. A Labour spokesman said: “Paul and the campaign team were proud to celebrate St George’s Day and enjoyed a sunny day having lots of positive conversations with voters.”

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