Labor has all but admitted defeat in the crucial Hartlepool election after a Tory attack saw Boris Johnson’s party poised to win the seat for the first time in 62 years.
Hartlepool’s expected loss, due to be declared around 6 a.m., would leave Labor leader Keir Starmer facing huge questions about his party’s future direction as even more of his longtime supporters vote for the Conservatives of Johnson.
It would be the second time in almost 40 years that a ruling party has taken an opposition seat.
The expected defeat came amid the first signs of a torrid night in local elections in England, with voters dropping out of the party for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and, in some cases, the Green Party. Votes continue to be counted in England, Scotland and Wales after the Super Thursday elections, the biggest test of political opinion outside of the general election.
Labor appeared to concede defeat at Hartlepool shortly before 3 a.m. Friday. Jim McMahon, the shadow minister who led the party’s election campaign, said: “From the way the ballots are coming in, it’s pretty clear that we’re not close to winning this despite our best efforts.”
McMahon said the Labor Party had “stood firm” and ran a “good campaign with integrity and a very positive vision for Hartlepool” but that Hartlepudlians had to choose “which vision they want to support.”
When asked if he was officially admitting defeat, he told Sky News: “We have not crossed the line that is quite clear on the ballots. How far too early to tell, but that’s pretty clear. For me it is about reflecting on what was a very difficult campaign to start … I have been here for six weeks; I enjoyed the campaign; I enjoyed the city and its people and enjoyed working alongside our fantastic volunteers. “
The by-election was a key test of Labor’s appeal in its traditional territories, just over a year after Starmer became leader with a pledge to rebuild the “red wall.”
Yet Labor struggled to combat a deep disillusionment with the party in Hartlepool, an constituency it has held since 1964, and a historic shift in loyalties to a Conservative party that was once considered toxic in north-east England.
The mood at the labor camp was depressing overnight. It was understood that Starmer was informed of the prospects around midnight, shortly after his team arrived at the Hartlepool headquarters. One team member said it became clear around midnight, while the votes were still being validated, that the Conservatives had amassed a “healthy majority.”
A Labor source said they expected the Conservatives to win by 5,000 to 6,000 votes. Participation in the contest was 42.55%, the lowest in years, although the general elections register fewer voters.
There were grim faces all over the Mill House Leisure Center, where the count was carried out under strict social distancing measures, as the morning wore on, even as a giant inflatable Boris Johnson was erected outside the sports hall at 4 A.M
Hilton Dawson, a former Labor MP who opposed the by-election for the pro-decentralization Northeast party, joked morbidly that his party would get “about 10 votes.” Sixteen candidates participated, but it was always going to be a two-horse race.
The result in Hartlepool comes after several neighboring Labor districts have fallen one by one to the Tories in recent years, six in the last general election, with post-industrial areas forming the basis of Johnson’s 81-seat majority in the United States. Common
Labor has seen its share of the vote decline in Hartlepool over the past 15 years, although the shift to the Tories has been accelerated by Brexit. The city where it was once said that people could “weigh Labor votes, not count them,” has blamed Labor for the loss of steelmaking jobs, as well as cuts to the local hospital and police, although these were due in large part to the Conservatives’ austerity program. .
There was discontent that the Labor Party chose former neighboring pro-Stay MP Paul Williams as its candidate in a city that voted 70% to leave the European Union.
Labor had been defending a narrow majority of 3,595 votes in a city it has occupied since Harold Wilson was in Downing Street nearly 60 years ago. The by-election was called after Mike Hill, the MP since 2017, withdrew on allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies.
Williams, a local GP and former MP from neighboring Stockton South, has tried to convince Hartlepudlians to give Labor another chance, arguing that the party is under new leadership both locally and nationally. He told The Guardian last month that his challenge was to convince people to trust the Labor Party.
Elsewhere in England, the Conservatives seized the Redditch and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils in the Midlands from Labor, along with Harlow in Essex, while Starmer’s party suffered heavy losses from local authorities in the northeast.
The results of the Holyrood elections, where the issue of Scottish independence was a main feature of the campaign, will be released later on Friday and Saturday.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism