Conservatives Secure Historic Win In Hartlepool By-Election In a Crushing Defeat for Labour
Labour has been dealt a major blow in Hartlepool after the Conservatives won the parliamentary seat with a huge majority of almost 7,000 votes.
North Yorkshire farmer Jill Mortimer has unseated Labour's Paul Williams and been elected as the town's new Conservative MP in a major upset which overturned decades of Labour control.
The swing towards the Conservatives was significant, flipping a Labour majority of 3,500 to a new Tory majority of 6,949.
Mortimer gained 15,529 while Williams gained 8,580 votes. The Conservatives took 51.9% of the votes, and Labour took 28.7%. The turnout at was 42.3%.
Speaking after the result was declared, Mortimer said she was "immensely proud" to be the first Conservative MP for Hartlepool in 57 years.
"Labour have taken people in Hartlepool for granted for too long," she continued.
"I heard this time and time again on the doorstep. People have had enough, and now through this result the people have spoken and they've made it clear, it is time for change.
"People voted for that positive change, for jobs and investment and it is exactly what I am going to deliver."
A Labour source said while the party had always expected a difficult night in the North East, but that "people don't want to hear excuses".
"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," they 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.
Keir Starmer has vowed to "take responsibility" for Labour's disappointing result, but it is not expected that he will resign.
"He will take responsibility for fixing it and changing the Labour Party for the better,” the Labour source added.
Speaking at the count ahead of the final result being called, Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon spoke of a "clearly very disappointing" turnout for Labour.
“It’s quite clear when we see the ballots landing on the table that we just haven’t got over the line on the day," McMahon told the BBC.
Around 3am McMahon seemed to concede deafeat.
"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," he told Sky News.
Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservative Party, said she was delighted with the result, and the team in Hartlepool had worked extremely hard to make the case for a Tory vote.
Asked by Sky News if they had "love bombed" the area, with a Teesside Freeport, specific towns deal money for nearby Middlesbrough and Thornaby, moving parts of the Treasury to Darlington and a new £1.8 million cultural venue in Hartlepool,
Milling said: "People recognise this area has not had a strong voice before. Our representatives up there have been making the case for investment in that area."
On whether this election was more about Boris Johnson's popularity rather than the actual candidate, she said: "He's popular but he's also delivered on those manifesto commitments in 2019. We made the promise in the general election we would get Brexit done, and that's very much what we did last year.
"We're recruiting more police officers, more money for the NHS and education so they see that we are actually delivering."
The contest was triggered in March following the resignation of MP Mike Hill who is facing an employment tribunal relating to sexual harassment and victimisation allegations, claims which he denies.
Hill had held the seat since 2017 with Labour grandee Peter Mandelson serving as the MP from 1992 to 2004. The seat had been in Labour control since 1974.
Labour support in Hartlepool had fallen significantly at the 2019 general election compared to 2017, with Hill's majority slashed by more than a half to just 3,500.
The victory will come as a major boost to Boris Johnson who had made several visits to the seat during the course of the campaign, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also making a series of campaign stops.
It is the latest so-called ‘red wall’ seat to fall to the Conservatives after Johnson’s party made significant inroads among Labour voters in the north of England in the 2019 general election.
Mortimer, a relatively unknown district councillor on Hambleton council in North Yorkshire, was buoyed by a series of campaign visits by high-profile Conservative figures, including Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen who is also standing for re-election.
Her Labour opponent, Dr Paul Williams, who was a vocal opponent of Brexit, had faced a challenge to persuade voters in the northern seat which had voted by almost 70 per cent to leave the EU – one of the staunchest Brexit supporting Labour-held seats in the country.
Williams had also faced criticism earlier in the campaign when he was forced to apologise for an historic tweet in which he used the vulgar term "Milf" to describe female Conservative MPs.
He said his comments were "inappropriate and I am sorry for using such language".
"They were from a decade ago, which doesn't diminish the fact that they were wrong, but I want to reassure people that I wouldn't dream of making comments like this now."
Speaking ahead of the result, the Prime Minister had said the seat would be a "massive, massive challenge" for his party to win.
"This is the stamping ground of Peter Mandelson," he said. "It's very important for everyone to be aware of the deep psephological reality, it's a massive massive challenge, it would be quite an extraordinary thing in my view if that were to happen."
Meanwhile, Starmer had said his party had a "mountain to climb" to recover from the 2019 election defeat.
"We lost very badly in December 2019, and my job is to rebuild trust, and confidence and reconnection with the Labour Party, and that's what I'm doing,” he said during the campaign.
"That will take time, of course it will take time."