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CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATE: Stockton restaurant owner to stand in election

CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATE: Stockton restaurant owner to stand in election

Image: LDRS

A RESTAURANT owner who has courted controversy with advertising campaigns and conflicts with a Teesside Council is to stand for election.

Craig Harker will put his name on the ballot paper in the Bishopsgarth and Elm Tree by-election on May 6.

The 34-year-old is to stand as an independent under the “Drain the Tees” banner – and has revealed ambitions to attract sitting councillors to his nascent party.

Mr Harker owns The George Bar and Grill on Stockton High Street and is no stranger to sparking outrage.

His pub was rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2017 over a post which asked: “would you punch your ex in the face for a parmo?”

The watchdog ruled the message “trivialised and encouraged domestic violence” – and it was condemned by chiefs at domestic abuse charity Harbour.

The George also hit the headlines in 2017 after obesity campaigners slammed the pub for offering free food to anybody weighing over 25 stone – as long as they publicly weighed themselves.

And in 2019, Mr Harker defended the pub again after a Facebook advert featuring the tagline: “Would you punch your ex in the face for a steak?”

The post was condemned by Stockton MPs – with Labour MP Alex Cunningham accusing the bar of “glorifying domestic violence”.

It triggered a Stockton Council licensing hearing which ordered Mr Harker to tone down the eatery’s social media posts, or risk it losing its ability to sell booze.

An online interview conducted by Mr Harker with Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen at the weekend also attracted criticism from Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs who said the mayor’s decision to take part was “reprehensible”.

Mr Harker confirmed the “Drain the Tees” tag-line was linked to Donald Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” slogan.

And he revealed he’d decided to stand following his experiences butting heads with public bodies.

He said: “Over the years, I’ve had several businesses in the area and I’ve seen all sides of the council and the police – I’ve seen the processes.

“They have fought me at every step when really I’m a businessman in Stockton that’s done reasonably well.

“It seems like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall with the council there at every turn.

“I can’t accept the way it’s being run – and can’t accept it being the same in 10 or 20 years’ time when my kids are older.”

The pub owner was served with a prohibition notice last November for holding a British Eating League contest during lockdown restrictions.

And in February 2020, a complaint was lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after a handwritten sign for Valentine’s Day appeared at the High Street eatery.

The sign read: “To all you beautiful girls, Happy Valentine’s Day!

“To all you fat birds, chin up! It’s Pancake Day soon!”

No further action was taken by Stockton Council or the ASA.

Mr Harker believed Teesside “wasn’t being put first” and hit out at “national parties” competing on the local stage.

He added: “When I had my licensing hearing, the average age of that panel was 60-plus.

“How can a businessman in his 30s explain to a councillor 60-plus what a Facebook meme is.

“I think younger people should get involved in politics.”

The restaurant owner claimed a recent meeting at Stockton Council was “like kids in a playground” – and wanted to see a move away from “party politics”.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he wanted to use his business contacts and experience to help the community.

Mr Harker added: “The other night I received a message that some kids had put the windows through at the local Chinese takeaway.

“I drove round and asked if anyone could help over Facebook to fix them and Birch Window Services stepped in and did.

“Being in business and having several contacts, I can help in the area where others might not have been able to help before.”

Other plans if he wins the seat include putting his £9,300 councillor allowance towards CCTV and moves to boost security – as well as working with firms to paint street-facing fences for free.

The father-of-three added: “We’ve done well in business but this is personal.

“This is for my kids and the area.”

The contest comes after the sudden death of campaigner and Liberal Democrat councillor Julia Cherrett who died in October aged just 61.

The party will defend the seat in a bid to retain two positions on the authority.

Labour will be represented by Dr Ben Lamb in May while Hugo Stratton will contest the ward for the Conservative party.

Notices of election will be published on March 22 with nominations closing at 4pm on Thursday, April 8.

A list of candidates in the three seats will be officially announced on April 9.

Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter


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