Whoops. The Tories must be cock-a-hoop over the antics of the opposition parties campaigning hard in Hartlepool ahead of one of the most contested by-elections for years.

First with the hand-grenade was Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, who attacked the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, for allegedly having “links to tax havens” and “more connection with tax havens than Hartlepool town centre”.

In a letter sent by Rayner to Tory party chairman, Amanda Milling, she alleged that it is ‘being reported that your candidate… spent time living in a tax haven where her former husband worked as a banker’.

The po-faced Rayner added: “I am sure I do not need to remind you that businesses that set up in places like the Cayman Islands tend to have a very specific motivation for doing so: namely, to avoid paying their fair share of taxes that contribute to running the public services we all rely on in this country.”

She went on: “Why do people do business in the Cayman Islands? To avoid paying tax. I’ve written to the Chair of the Conservatives demanding that their candidate publishes her tax returns.”

Poor Angela, she had not done any fact-checking. In fact, she didn’t do any homework at all. It is true that Mortimer – who now lives in Thirsk some 30 miles away from Hartlepool – lived in the Cayman Islands.

She was there with her family and now ex-husband because he was a regulator – a fraud-busting regulator working on breaking up corruption and anti-terrorist financing.

One of the nice guys: a highly respected barrister, experienced in financial services and awarded an OBE for services to regulation.

Milling must have loved tweeting to Rayner how she had made “an eye popping error”, and a “slur” which was “factually wrong” as well as disingenuous. Tory party HQ added that living overseas is hardly a crime: the Labour candidate, Dr Paul Williams, lived in Uganda for four years working as a volunteer helping set up a community health project.

Next with the petrol can was Rod Liddle, the journalist and former staunch Labour supporter, who was out in Hartlepool today campaigning for the SDP party, of which he is now a member.

Out on the streets talking to passers-by, Liddle told the crowd that Labour is an appalling party, one that used to support the working class but no longer does now that it has been taken over by the liberal, metropolitan elite. “Worse than that, it despises the working class. It despises the people of Hartlepool. It despises the way they live their lives, it despises their morals and it despises their aspirations…” Phew. Heady. stuff. 

There was more to come. Liddle went on to point out that Starmer and Labour were so out of touch that they chose Dr Williams, not just a Remainer, but an arch Remainer to represent the people of Hartlepool whose vote for Brexit was the biggest in England.

If the opposition keep going with attacks like this, Mortimer – who is now a local district councilor and farmer – might even have a chance of winning the seat – that would be the first time the Tories have won it since it was created in 1974. 

At the last election, Labour’s majority was skinned to just under 3,600, down from 7,650 in 2017. With just over a week to go to the polls, could Hartlepool be the new Sunderland?