Keir Starmer’s hopes of leading a Labour revival have been dealt a crushing blow after the Tories romped to victory in the Hartlepool by-election.
In a stunning result, the Conservatives took the seat – which had been Labour-held since it was formed in 1974 – with a majority of 6,940.
Reaction pours in
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed admitted it was an “absolutely shattering” result as another brick in the party’s once impregnable “red wall” crumbled.
In a major boost for Boris Johnson, Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer gained 15,529 votes – more than half the total cast. Labour’s Paul Williams trailed on 8,589.
And early results in council contests appeared to show voters deserting Labour, with the Tories seizing Redditch and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils in the Midlands, along with Harlow in Essex and Northumberland.
In her victory speech, Ms Mortimer said the result – overturning a Labour majority of more than 3,500 at the 2019 general election – was “truly historic”.
“Labour have taken people in Hartlepool for granted for too long. I heard this time and time again on the doorstep,” she said.
The result provoked a furious reaction from the Labour left – sidelined since Starmer became leader last year – who said the party must now change direction.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it had been a “crushing” defeat.
“Not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result. Labour won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy,” she tweeted.
Former shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the party needs to “urgently change direction”.
“We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning,” he tweeted.
“Labour’s leadership needs to urgently change direction. It should start by championing the popular policies in our recent manifestos.”
Grassroots group Momentum said it was a “disaster”.
Co-chairman Andrew Scattergood said: “Starmer’s strategy of isolating the left and replacing meaningful policy with empty buzzwords has comprehensively failed.
“If he doesn’t change direction, not only will he be out of a job – but the Labour Party may be out of government forever.”
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