The party leader’s authority has been hit by a bruising result in the former Labour seat that saw a Conservative MP elected for the first time in 50 years. Just hours after the result has been announced, critics of Sir Keir are already briefing against him.
Blaming the leadership’s lack of socialist policies for failing to win the seat that was won twice under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Diane Abbott tweeted: “Crushing defeat for Labour in Hartlepool. 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.”
Former Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon added: “Incredibly disappointing defeat in Hartlepool.
“We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning.
“Labour’s leadership needs to urgently change direction.
“It should start by championing the popular policies in our recent manifestos – backed by a large majority of voters.”
Another MP labelled the leader a “lame duck”, warning of a leadership challenge to come.
“You’ll begin to see his authority wane and the big fish maneuver quite disrespectfully around the still-moving carcass,” they told Politico.
Criticising Sir Keir’s push for the party to be seen as more patriotic, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said: “Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well.”
Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer beat Labour’s Dr Paul Williams – an avid Remainer and second-referendum campaigner during his time as MP for Stockton South from 2017-19 – with a majority of nearly 7,000 in the by-election.
The result represents a swing of over 10,000 votes to the Tories in the seat since the 2019 vote.
A rift through Labour has opened up following the loss of Hartlepool. While MPs on the left of the party are demanding a change in leadership and a more radical policy agenda, allies of Sir Keir are calling for quicker change.
Admitting the Hartlepool defeat has been “heart-breaking”, shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said: “It tells us that the pace of change in the Labour Party has not been fast enough.
“We have a breach of trust between too much of the British electorate and the Labour Party, and we haven’t done enough to repair it over the past year.”
A Labour source added Sir Keir Starmer would take responsibility for the result but claimed the loss was due to a failure to move to the centre quickly enough, and did not represent a need to return to the policies adopted under Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
They said: “We’ve said all along the North East and the Midlands would be difficult.
“But the message from voters is clear and we have heard it – Labour has not yet changed nearly enough for voters to place their trust in us.
“We understand that. We are listening. And we will now redouble our efforts.
“People don’t want to hear excuses. Keir has said he will take responsibility for these results – and he will take responsibility for fixing it and changing the Labour Party for the better.”
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.
Momentum, the grassroots organisation that helped project Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015, has warned Sir Keir Starmer he will be challenged as leader unless he changes direction.
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.”
More to follow…