Local elections 2021: Labour accepts defeat in Hartlepool by-election as stunning victory looms for Tories

Local elections 2021: Labour accepts defeat in Hartlepool by-election as stunning victory looms for Tories


Labour has accepted defeat in the Hartlepool by-election ahead of the confirmed results, with the constituency poised to welcome a Tory MP for the first time since its inception in the 1970s.

Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, told The Telegraph that Labour “haven’t secured enough to get over the line”.

He said the by-election, which was triggered by the resignation of a Labour MP, was “always going to be difficult” for the party to win.

“Our starting point was the 2019 election, and at that time we secured just over a third of the vote,” he said. “So it was always going to come down to the 10,000 votes that the Brexit Party attracted in that election and where they would go to.

“In the end, we weren’t able to convince that Brexit vote to come back to Labour. It was an aftershock from the earthquake that we felt in 2019, being felt in this by-election.”

A Tory source at the count suggested the party would win by thousands of votes – potentially giving the Conservatives a larger majority than the incumbent’s 3,595.

Follow the latest updates below.

05:38 AM

Jill Mortimer arrives ahead of Hartlepool result

Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer has arrived at the Hartlepool count – the result will be announced imminently.

05:22 AM

‘I was 6ft6 when I started this campaign – now I’m 5ft6,’ says Labour councillor

A Labour councillor has joked that he has shrunk by a foot in size in his efforts to win votes this campaign, telling Sky News today’s result is “not for want of trying”.

05:16 AM

Sir Keir Starmer to ‘fix’ problems with Labour, party vows

Starmer: Dogged at polling stations – AFP

Sir Keir Starmer will “take responsibility for these results” in the Hartlepool by-election, a Labour source has said – which is not the same as saying he will resign.

In fact, the source makes clear that the leader will be staying put to “fix” the problems.

“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,” the source said. “We understand that. We are listening. And we will now redouble our efforts.

“Labour must now accelerate the programme of change in our party, to win back the trust and faith of working people across Britain.

“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.”

05:12 AM

Keir Starmer was wrong to believe the Brexit divisions are over

While Boris Johnson’s personal pulling power is clearly attracting one-time Labour voters to the Tories, questions are being asked about Sir Keir Starmer’s role in what looks to be a dismal night for the party, writes Catherine Neilan.

He cannot be entirely blamed for the mess Labour got into under Jeremy Corbyn – although given he was a frontbencher in charge of the party’s Brexit strategy, neither is he completely absolved.

In the here and now, however, his judgement in pushing for a Remain candidate in the Leave-backing seat of Hartlepool was surely lacking.

Sir Keir has repeatedly argued that the Brexit wars are over, saying “we are all Leavers now”. But it seems clear that for those still awaiting the benefits of the 2016 referendum, those dividing lines linger on.

05:04 AM

Labour wins first round of Doncaster vote

Labour has won the first round of the vote for the mayoral contest in Doncaster.

Incumbent Ros Jones has secured 27,669 votes, while Tory candidate James Hart received 17,980.

More to follow…

05:02 AM

Count table ‘groaning under the weight of Tory votes’

There is a count table “groaning under the weight of votes for Conservatives” an MP has said, with the results expected to be announced imminently.

Robin Millar, the MP for Aberconwy, added: “This is not going to be pretty for Labour – and it’s already begun.”

04:59 AM

Labour MP bemoans ‘valueless flag-waving’ as election loss looms

A Labour MP has bemoaned “valueless flag-waving and suit-wearing” as the Tories look set to steal the Red Wall seat of Hartlepool.

The use of flags has become a bone of contention among the Labour left, after leaked memo revealed that Sir Keir Starmer was looking to shift the party’s strategy to win back the trust of disillusioned voters.

04:53 AM

‘People just think Boris is great,’ admits Labour councillor

For all the post-election analysis, there is one very simple reason for some of the Tories’ success overnight.

A Labour councillor has put it succinctly: “People just think Boris is great.”

04:50 AM

Nuneaton MP praises ‘massive effort’ as Tories take council from Labour

Nuneaton’s MP Marcus Jones has said he is “delighted” after the Conservatives gained control of his local council from Labour.

The Conservatives won 13 of the first 14 seats declared this morning.

“I’m delighted that @NuneatonMatters and @BedworthTories gained a massive 11 seats and will now take control of @NBBCouncil,” he posted on Twitter.

04:47 AM

Harlow MP ‘proud’ as Tories seize control of Essex council

Harlow MP Robert Halfon said he was “proud” after the Tories seized control of the Essex district’s council from Labour.

“Won 11 seats, including 7 from Labour as well as defeating the Harlow Labour Council leader,” he tweeted.

He also offered his commiserations to the “hard-working” opposition team, saying: “Whatever our significant political differences, all political parties want to build an even better Harlow and help people through Covid.”

04:44 AM

Boris Johnson has positioned the Tories as the party of change

Typically in local elections, you would expect the opposition party to make gains as voters register their discontent with the government of the day, writes Catherine Neilan.

But so far Conservatives have stolen 40 council seats in England, while Labour support ebbs.

Throughout the campaign Boris Johnson positioned his party as the vehicle for change – no mean feat given the Tories have been in power now for more than a decade.

Despite Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to paint the party as riddled with sleaze, the electorate appear to be of a different opinion, lapping up the Tories’ promise of levelling up in the post-Covid world.

04:26 AM

Hartlepool by-election: How Covid has muted the count

Counting during Covid is dampening the atmosphere - Getty

Counting during Covid is dampening the atmosphere – Getty

Inside the Hartlepool count, the atmosphere is curiously still, writes Tony Diver.

It’s an election count, but not as you know it – and has only been allowed to take place under strict coronavirus rules.

Counters are painstakingly recording votes, but they sit with perspex screens between them, wearing masks. The urgency is there – but Covid is undeniably muting things.

Around the edge of the Mill House Leisure Centre, the masks of Labour supporters cover their grimaces as their party edges closer to defeat.

Even in the Tory corner, there is little jubilation yet – and the usual pack of journalists have been relegated to a chilly car park to prevent too many people gathering inside.

Local officials are watching to make sure the election rules are followed, but they are enforcing Covid restrictions too – making sure social distancing is followed and doling out hand sanitiser.

04:17 AM

Hartlepool could be just the first painful by-election for Labour

If the Tories do take Hartlepool – which we are expected to be confirmed within the hour – that poses some serious questions for Labour.

Most pressing will be what they do in West Yorkshire, where former actress Tracy Brabin is hoping to become mayor.

If she succeeds, the Batley and Spen MP, and former shadow culture minister, will have to stand down, triggering another potentially painful by-election in a Red Wall seat.

No doubt Labour will push another contest back as long as possible, hoping that things will turn their way when furlough starts to be withdrawn and the anticipated reckoning on jobs begins.

But today’s results suggest that 2019 was the start of a paradigm shift, rather than just a Brexit-induced blip.

04:08 AM

Hartlepool voters are ‘swallowing Tory MP and see if money comes’, says Labour

Labour’s Jim McMahon has admitted the Tories “played it well” in Hartlepool, and accused them of “political propaganda” by offering voters more government funding if they had a Conservative MP.

“I believe that the Tories have played it well,” he told The Telegraph on the floor of the count.

“They were very clear with the public of Hartlepool. If you vote for Tory MP, you will get the funding the towns around you have, because they have a Tory MP.

“Now, you might say that’s wrong, and the government can’t use taxpayers’ money for essentially political propaganda.

“For Hartlepool, you weren’t going to change the Government of the day, you weren’t going to change the Prime Minister. For a few years, swallow a Tory MP and see if the money comes.”

03:48 AM

In pictures: Counting in a pandemic

Polling station staff count votes for the Hartlepool  - GETTY IMAGES

Polling station staff count votes for the Hartlepool – GETTY IMAGES

People observe as the count takes place for the Hartlepool  - GETTY IMAGES

People observe as the count takes place for the Hartlepool – GETTY IMAGES

Count volunteers wait for the next batch of ballots to be verified in Hartlepool - GETTY IMAGES

Count volunteers wait for the next batch of ballots to be verified in Hartlepool – GETTY IMAGES

03:21 AM

Labour miss out on Nuneaton and Bedworth

The Conservatives have taken control of Nuneaton and Bedworth after winning 13 of the first 14 seats declared.

The council was previously controlled by Labour.

03:19 AM

World’s biggest Boris Johnson

Could this be the world’s biggest Boris Johnson?

The Telegraph‘s Tony Diver is out in Hartlepool and came across this giant inflatable version of the Prime Minister.

“The man inflating it won’t give his name but describes himself as a ‘local joker’,” Tony tweeted.

Asked if he likes Mr Johnson, the man replied: “Not really, no. But Hartlepool needs a change.”

Hartlepool woke up to a giant, inflatable Boris Johnson - TONY DIVER

Hartlepool woke up to a giant, inflatable Boris Johnson – TONY DIVER

02:57 AM

Hartlepool turn out is down compared to 2019

The turn out of the Hartlepool by-election was 42.55 per cent.

The Telegraph‘s Tony Diver is in Hartlepool and says this is down from 57.9 per cent in 2019.

The votes have been verified and counting for the Parliamentary election will now begin.

“Result now not expected until 5am at the earliest,” Tony says.

02:38 AM

Tories take all nine Redditch seats

The Conservatives won all nine of the seats being contested in Redditch, the first council result of the night, gaining seven seats from Labour.

There was no change of control, with the Conservatives holding 25 seats on the new council and Labour just four, losing both their leader and deputy leader.

02:37 AM

McMahon: ‘We haven’t got over the line, that’s quite clear’

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon has conceded Labour has not “got over the line” in Hartlepool.

Asked whether Labour would be claiming victory in the by-election, Mr McMahon told Sky News: “It would be difficult to do that given how we see the numbers beginning to pan out.”

Pressed on whether he was conceding defeat, he added: “It is pretty clear in the way the ballots are landing that we are not close to winning this despite our best endeavours, despite the hard work of many fantastic volunteers and despite a fantastic candidate, who of course is a local GP working at Hartlepool hospital who has been working on the frontline during the pandemic.

“And so I think we have given it our all but sometimes you don’t get over the line on the day.

“That’s where we are, that’s the reality of where we are.

“We haven’t got over the line, that’s quite clear from the ballots.”

01:53 AM

Super Thursday votes are being counted

votes are being counted

votes are being counted

Millions of Britons on Thursday voted in a bumper crop of elections – the UK’s first major democratic exercise since the country was hit by coronavirus last year.

So-called Super Thursday saw people cast their ballots in a wide variety of races – some delayed due to the pandemic – that include 143 English councils, the Scottish and Welsh devolved parliaments and the London mayoral contest.

The mammoth set of elections are the first major test for Boris Johnson’s government since he achieved a majority for the Conservatives in the 2019 general election and for Labour leader Keir Starmer’s opposition throughout the pandemic.

At stake may also be the future of the Union, as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waits to hear if she has won enough seats to help her push for a second independence referendum.

01:32 AM

Results may take longer to come through

The result in the Hartlepool by-election might not be known until around 7am, a source at the count has told PA news agency.

It had been predicted that the declaration could have come as soon as 4am, but that has been revised.

Staff in the hall were still verifying votes and have not yet started to count them.

01:29 AM

Starmer ‘not in the slightest’ to blame for defeat

Shadow public health minister Alex Norris said Labour did not expect to recover from the 2019 general election loss within 18 months.

Asked whether leader Sir Keir Starmer would be to blame for a defeat in the Hartlepool by-election, Mr Norris told Sky News: “No, not in the slightest.

“Let’s not prejudge it, for one. But what Keir is going to be very clear about, what we are clear about as a Labour Party is that this is going to be a no-excuses election for us.

“Because you could say, ‘Well, on the one hand Covid and on the other hand the vaccination programme’, and then again on ‘Hartlepool has got very different local politics’.

“We are going to take our successes as we get them with humility and then we are going to own where we fall short, because we are in a long-term project of re-engaging with people.”

Pressed on whether Labour was managing to re-engage with the so-called “Red Wall”, Mr Norris added: “No one thinks this process is over, no-one thought this would be done in 18 months – that would be a very unlikely situation, but we are on that road, we are listening to people and I think we are making progress from tonight and onwards.”

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