Conservatives gain seat from Labour in historic Hartlepool by-election defeat

© Kerstin Rodgers

The Conservatives have gained the parliamentary constituency of Hartlepool, which has been Labour since its creation, in what represents a historic by-election defeat for the opposition party.

Tory candidate Jill Mortimer, a farmer from North Yorkshire, beat Dr Paul Williams by a margin of nearly 7,000, as Labour secured 8,589 votes compared the Conservatives who won 15,529.

Conservative: 51.9% (+23.0)
Labour: 28.7% (-9.0)
Independent: 9.7% (+7.5)
Reform UK: 1.2% (-24.6)
Green: 1.2% (+1.2)
Lib Dem: 1.2% (-3.0)
Other: 6.1% (+4.9)

Before the result was announced, a Labour source said: “We’ve said all along the North East and the Midlands would be difficult. We also said the places declaring Thursday would be particularly 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.

“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.”

Ahead of the result, Labour frontbencher Steve Reed commented: “We’ve started to make change, it clearly hasn’t gone fast enough or far enough, and that’s what we’ll need to do next.”

Left-wing group Momentum described losing Hartlepool as a “disaster”, called for an urgent “change of direction” from the party leadership and said: “Starmer has to own this defeat, and we have to work out a way forward.”

John McDonnell MP said policies advocated by Labour in 2019, such as moving civil servants out of London and investing in infrastructure, were being implemented by the Tories. He said Labour must be “more radical than we were in December 2019”.

Asked whether the party needs a new leader following the result, the former Shadow Chancellor argued that Starmer has “got to be given his chance”, but he warned that the party must not send out activists “almost naked” without policies again.

Andrew Adonis argued this morning that Labour cannot win with Starmer, writing: “The question now is what Keir transitions to and when; and whether Labour needs to lose another general election… before choosing a leader who can win.”

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour incumbent Mike Hill, who quit in mid-March with immediate effect, faced with allegations of sexual harassment that he strongly denies.

Williams, who was elected as MP for Stockton South in 2017 but lost his seat in the 2019 general election, was selected to contest Hartlepool for Labour without a full selection process as he was the only person longlisted.

Hartlepool was held by Labour with 15,464 votes in 2019, when the pro-Brexit vote was split between the Conservative Party and the Brexit Party, which secured 11,869 and 10,603 votes respectively.

Turnout in the northern constituency reached 57.9% in the general election and by-elections generally see fewer people vote. 42.5% of eligible residents in the constituency turned out to vote on Thursday.

The seat was formerly represented by Peter Mandelson, a chief architect of New Labour, between the 1992 general election and a by-election in 2004, at which point Labour’s majority was much reduced.

The constituency has until now always returned Labour MPs since its creation and first election in 1974. The similar seat that preceded it, The Hartlepools, was mostly Labour-held from 1945.

The by-election defeat for Labour was not a huge shock after constituency polling indicated this would be the case, but it is very rare for governments to gain constituencies from the opposition party.

Jim McMahon MP effectively conceded defeat ahead of the result being announced, telling Sky News that “we haven’t got over the line”. He said Labour had been coming from a “very difficult position” in the 2019 election.

The by-election took place as voters went to the polls across the UK on Thursday amid elections for around 5,000 councillors, 13 directly-elected mayors, 129 Scottish parliament members and 60 Welsh Senedd members.

Labour’s Ros Jones has been re-elected as mayor of Doncaster with the count going down to second preferences. The incumbent secured just over 10,000 votes more than Tory James Hart, with each achieving 31,232 and 21,019 votes respectively.

Early results for the local elections began to emerge this morning. They showed a disappointing outcome for Labour in Sunderland as the party lost nine seats, losing five of its councillors to the Conservatives and four to the Lib Dems.

While counting is yet to begin for the majority of the contests that took place on Thursday, the Conservatives have gained control of Nuneaton and Bedworth, which was previously under no overall control run by a Labour minority.

Newcastle upon Tyne finished counting shortly before Sunderland. Only 26 of the 78 seats in Newcastle were up for election on Thursday, so Labour could not have lost its majority. The party lost two seats.

The Tories gained control of Harlow Council. Labour ceded seven seats, while the Tories increased their number of seats by seven. Labour also lost seven seats in Redditch, where the Tories maintained control.

Labour lost four seats in South Tyneside but maintained its control with 44 councillors. Independent candidates now hold six seats, up one. The Greens took two seats, for a total of three. The Tories took one.

Rochdale Council stayed under Labour control after the results. No seats changed hands. The Tories held onto Southend-on-Sea, gaining three seats, while Labour gained one seat to bring its total to 13.

Labour retained control of Gateshead. Its large majority was unchanged as it held onto all of its 52 councillors. Colchester stayed under no overall control. Labour saw no change to the seats it holds on the authority.

The Tories held Thurrock Council, gaining six seats on the local authority. Labour neither won nor lost any additional councillors, leaving the Conservatives with a majority of nine. Independents hold four seats.

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