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Sir Keir Starmer has said he is “bitterly disappointed” and takes “full responsibility” for Labour’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election.
“I’m bitterly disappointed in the result and I take full responsibility for the results. And I will take full responsibility for fixing things,” the Labour leader said.
The Hartlepool vote – as well as Thursday’s local elections, for which the results are continuing to be counted – represent Sir Keir’s first major electoral test after just over a year as Labour leader.
In a bad night for the party, Labour lost out to the Conservatives in Hartlepool by 6,940 votes.
Sir Keir said the party had “lost the trust of working people” in places like Hartlepool and added that he intends to do “whatever is necessary to fix that”.
A clearly rattled Labour leader said the party had been ‘talking to ourselves’ rather than voters – insisting he is ready to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ‘fix’ the problems.
The humble comments in a TV clip came as Sir Keir finally surfaced nine hours after the extraordinary by-election defeat in Hartlepool kicked off a disastrous day of results.
He is now facing a battle for the party’s soul as Corbynites demand a lurch to the Left – and centrists complain he has nothing to say to ordinary people.
Meanwhile, the PM hailed an extraordinary Tory surge as he visited Hartlepool after taking the rock-solid Labour seat for the first time in a by-election.
Flanked by his new MP Jill Mortimer, a jubilant PM said voters believe he can ‘deliver’ following the latest devastating hammer blow to the Red Wall.
Council results are also looking like a catastrophe for Labour, with a slew of losses and Conservatives taking control in former strongholds such as Northumberland, Nuneaton and Dudley.
As pressure mounts on Sir Keir, Lord Mandelson warned that returning to Socialist ‘la la land’ will not help.
The ex-Cabinet minister said Jeremy Corbyn was ‘still casting a very dark cloud over Labour’, adding: ‘He still gets them going on the doorstep.’
And Sir Keir gave little sign he is about to cave in to the hard-Left demands despite offering a grovelling admission of failure.
Instead he is believed to be preparing a radical reshuffle of his shadow cabinet within days as he desperately tries to restore links with working-class voters.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth tipped for the axe.
He is sounding out high-profile figures including former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper about a possible return to the frontbench.
‘I take full responsibility for the results, and I will take full responsibility for fixing things,’ Sir Keir said.
‘We have changed as a party, but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country.
‘Very often we’ve been talking to ourselves instead of to the country and we’ve lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool.
‘I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.’
Challenged on whether that meant moving to the Left or Right, Sir Keir flannelled about stopping ‘quarreling amongst ourselves’.
‘This is not a question of left or right. It is a question of whether we are facing the country,’ he said.
‘We have changed as a party but we’ve not made a strong enough case to the country, we’ve lost that connection, that trust, and I intend to rebuild that and do whatever is necessary to rebuild that trust.’
Ms Mortimer said her victory – with a 7,000 majority after overturning the Opposition’s previous margin of 3,500 – showed that ‘Labour have taken the people of Hartlepool for granted for too long’. ‘People have had enough,’ she added in a speech at the count.
The victory by 15,529 to 8,589 votes shows that Mr Johnson’s realignment of the British political landscape is continuing, with more of the so-called Red Wall collapsing. The 16 per cent swing is believed to be the biggest to a governing party in a by-election since the Second World War.
It heaps pressure on Sir Keir amid a growing revolt from hard-Left activists.
The party is now bracing for further bad news as the votes are counted in England’s council and mayoral battles following ‘Super Thursday’ elections.
Questions are being asked over the choice of a Remainer former MP as the Labour candidate in Brexit-voting Hartlepool.
As brutal recriminations began, Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and John McDonnell were among those demanding a more left-wing approach.
Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle tweeted: ‘Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well… or not?’
Corbynite MP Richard Burgon said: ‘We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning. Labour’s leadership needs to urgently change direction.’
Conservative Ben Houchen was re-elected as Tees Valley Mayor with a whopping 73 per cent of the vote, up from 40 per cent in the 2017 election, while Labour leaders in Sheffield, Oldham and Harlow were among 120 of its councillors in England to lose seats so far. In contrast, the Tories gained 95 seats and the Lib Dems gained five.
Labour group leaders lost their seats in Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire – where Labour was hoping a to make gains, but ended up ceding ground.
The Tories won all nine of the seats being contested in Redditch, the first council result of the night, gaining seven from Labour. They took control of Nuneaton & Bedworth from Labour after winning 13 of the first 14 seats declared. The Conservatives also seized control of Harlow Council from Labour, and gained a seat to take overall control in Northumberland – as well as taking charge in Dudley.
However, despite the massive gains in Red Wall areas there were a few setbacks for Mr Johnson. The Tories lost control of Remain-voting Cambridgeshire after shipping eight seats – five to the Lib Dems, two to Labour and one to an independent.
The mayoral contest in the West Mids is looking miserable for Labour, while sitting MP Tracy Brabin securing the West Yorkshire mayor job could leave Sir Keir facing another challenging by-election in Batley & Spen.