Labor suffered a ‘shattering’ defeat in Thursday’s Hartlepool by-election as they lost to the Conservatives by 6,940 votes.
The result strengthens Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s majority in the House of Commons and also gives him another brick in the “red wall” of Labor.
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Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer, who will now become Hartlepool’s new MP, won more than half of all the votes as the Tories edged out Labor to second in the constituency in the 2019 general election.
Hartlepool’s vote – along with Thursday’s local elections, the results of which continue to be counted – were Sir Keir’s first major electoral test after just over a year as Labor leader.
And the by-election defeat has focused its review on his performance over the past 12 months, with critics from Labor’s left wing seizing on the result to urge Sir Keir to adjust his strategy.
Sir Keir remained silent as he left his north London home on Friday morning, while Mr Johnson was able to describe ‘very encouraging’ early election results after the Tories also made a handful of gains in English councils.
“I know that the results have been coming since this morning and that there is clearly a lot to be done and that it is early,” the Prime Minister said during a visit to Coventry.
“But a very encouraging set of results so far and I think it’s really because we have focused as a government on our priorities, the priorities of the people, and we have bounced back from the pandemic as much as we have. can to overcome it. “
As the Labor inquiry into Hartlepool’s defeat began, allies of Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn were quick to point out that Labor had twice won the seat under Mr Corbyn’s leadership in recent years.
“It is not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result,” former Labor shadow secretary Diane Abbott said on Twitter.
“Labor has won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer needs to rethink his strategy. “
Another of the former ministers in Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, Richard Burgon, said Labor was “retreating in the areas we need to win”.
“Union leaders must change direction urgently,” he added.
“He should start by defending popular policies in our recent manifestos – supported by a large majority of voters. “
And left-wing campaign group Momentum also accused Sir Keir of taking Labor “back”.
“It’s time to change direction, not to double down on a failed strategy,” they posted on Twitter.
“In order to rebuild, leaders must build a coalition with the left on transformative politics, get back to community organizing and empower members to shape the future of our party. “
Mr Corbyn’s longest political ally, former Labor shadow chancellor John McDonnell, said Sir Keir must “have his chance”.
But he claimed Labor had entered Hartlepool’s campaign “almost without politics”.
“We must never again send our candidates on an election campaign almost naked, without a political program, without a clear vision of the type of society you want to create,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“It’s the kind of thing we need now. “
Former Labor minister Lord Mandelson, a key New Labor architect who also served as an MP for Hartlepool for 12 years, blamed the party’s defeat on longer-term problems.
He said he felt a “slight fury that the last 10 years of what we have done in the Labor Party at national and local level have brought us to this result, because it is first and foremost basically an explanation of what is happening. ‘happened today’.
“What I would say is this, and I remind the party that we haven’t won a general election for 16 years,” he told the BBC.
“We lost the last four, with 2019 a disaster – the last 11 general elections read: lose, lose, lose, lose, Blair, Blair, Blair, lose, lose, lose, lose.
“We have to learn from these victories as well as those losses for once in this game, and I really hope that when Keir and his colleagues in the shadow cabinet say that means we have to change direction, which they actually mean. he. “
Sir Keir’s allies rebuffed suggestions that the party leader’s position could be jeopardized by Hartlepool’s outcome.
Shadow communities and local government secretary Steve Reed told Sky News the defeat was “shattering” but insisted there was no need to abandon Sir Keir.
“For the first time in many years, in fact, we have a leader that people can see as an alternative prime minister,” he said.
“What they don’t understand yet is that the Labor Party is different from the Labor Party which they generally rejected in December 2019? This work has not yet been done. “
Mr Reed added that the COVID pandemic had “in part” hampered Sir Keir’s efforts to establish himself with voters.
Party ghost schools minister Wes Streeting also backed Sir Keir. He tweeted: ‘Our leadership has changed for the better, but voters are not convinced Labor has changed too.
“It is a huge and urgent task. Keir understands. We must too. ”