The Conservatives took Hartlepool in 1959 and managed to hold it for a single term. Since then it has belonged exclusively to Labour.
In the General Election of 1979, the seat recorded no swing between Labour and the Conservatives, providing the former their best result in an election dominated by the Tories.
As unemployment has bitten during the 1980s and 90s, support for the Conservatives has dwindled. 20% of people living in Hartlepool were out of work in 1981 and 16% in 1991, and the closest the Tories have yet come to retaking the seat was in 1983 when they lost by 3,000 votes.
Hartlepool, described as the archetypal north eastern industrial town, lies a few miles north of Teeside.
An unlovely landscape of giant chemical factories, working dock yards and a British Steel plant seems an almost alien one for London-born MP Peter Mandelson, who was educated at Hendon and Oxford before embarking on a successful career as a television producer.
Mr Mandelson has had his ups and downs over the last four years; he resigned as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in December 1998 and as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in January 2001.