Tories take Hartlepool in historic Red Wall by-election victory
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The Conservative Party has won the Hartlepool by-election, turning the constituency blue for the first time since it was created and punching another hole in the Red Wall.
In an historic defeat for Labour, Hartlepool voted for the Tory candidate, Jill Mortimer, by 15,529 votes to Labour’s 8,589.
All eyes will now turn to Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader who promised to “carry the can” for any defeat in this week’s “Super Thursday” set of elections.
Sir Keir’s critics point to the voting history of Dr Paul Williams, Labour’s candidate in Hartlepool, who voted to Remain in the EU referendum.
Hartlepool is one of the UK’s strongest Brexit-supporting constituencies, with 70 per cent voting to leave in 2016.
In the 2019 general election, a quarter of the vote share was absorbed by the Brexit Party, splitting the support of Brexiteers and returning a Labour MP with a reduced majority of just 4,000.
But polling released earlier this week suggested Boris Johnson’s party had as much as a 17-point lead, raising doubts about Hartlepool's continued loyalty to the Labour Party.
MPs on the left of Labour had warned Sir Keir’s leadership team was not “cutting through” in the North East, and called for a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet.
In the moments before the result was announced, 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.”
Mr Williams left the count in Hartlepool within minutes of the declaration and did not speak to the media. Ms Mortimer said she was proud to be the first Tory MP for Hartlepool in over half a century and the first woman MP here ever.
Paul Williams, who was the first Labour candidate to lose in Hartlepool for half a century, is not hanging around: pic.twitter.com/ai9AyDyMwB— Tony Diver (@Tony_Diver) May 7, 2021
Ms Mortimer said it was "a tough contest, but one that has been fought with dignity and respect".
In a sideswipe to Labour's focus on sleaze allegations, her campaign was "based on local issues of real concern to the community here," she said.
"I am immensely proud to be the first Conservative MP in more than 50 years and the first woman MP to be elected for this town," she added. "It is a truly historic result and a momentous day.
"Labour have taken people for granted too long... people have had enough and now through this result, the people have spoken and made it clear - it is time for change."
She said her priorities include bringing more maternity care to the local hospital and holding Boris Johnson to his promise to “level up” the North.
Asked by The Telegraph if she saw herself as a “Red Wall” MP, Ms Mortimer said she simply saw herself as the MP for Hartlepool.
“I know some of them [northern Tories] already and what I’ll do is work with them,” she said.
The loss in Hartlepool raises questions about the future of many of Sir Keir’s top team - although he has indicated he would not resign if the by-election were lost.
Both main party leaders were publicly sceptical about their parties’ chances in the seat, with Mr Johnson telling reporters it would be a “tough fight”.
Amanda Milling, the Tory chairman, said it was “extraordinary” that the party could even contemplate winning in the town.
Lord Mandelson, the former Labour MP for Hartlepool and reported adviser to Sir Keir’s leadership team, said he would have a “meltdown” if his party lost.
Ms Mortimer, the newly-elected MP, is a farmer and district councillor from North Yorkshire. Her campaign was backed by visits from a number of Cabinet ministers, including Mr Johnson himself and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The result means Boris Johnson’s overall majority in the House of Commons increases by two, to 82 seats.
The Hartlepool result comes as the UK awaits the result of other “Super Thursday” elections, including votes for Scottish MSPs and Welsh Senedd members, police and crime commissioners, hundreds of English council seats, several metropolitan mayoralties and the London Assembly.
Results for those ballots will be declared throughout Friday and into the weekend.