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Labour Left Calls On Leadership To Urgently Change Direction After Devastating Hartlepool By-Election Defeat

4 min read

Keir Starmer needs to rapidly change direction to win back voters, according to those on Labour's left-wing, as they begin dissecting the catastrophic loss in the Hartlepool by-election and losses on English councils.

Former shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, who served under Jeremy Corbyn and is Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said Starmer must provide a more inspiring vision. 

"Incredibly disappointing defeat in Hartlepool. We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning," he said. 

"Labour's leadership needs to urgently change direction. 

"It must take the fight to the Tories and offer a much clearer and more inspiring vision of what Labour stands for. 

"It should start by championing the popular policies in our recent manifestos – which are backed by a large majority of voters."

The unprecented result in Hartlepool – a seat Labour had held for 57 years  – has raised a number of questions about the result which saw the Tories almost double Labour's previous majority. 

Under Corbyn the seat was held in the recent 2017 and 2019 general elections, albeit with a drastically reduced majority in 2019. 

Questions are now being raised on whether Labour should pivot back to a more left-wing agenda as championed by Corbyn and if Starmer should push parts of the last manifesto, which many on the left say was incredibly popular despite the 2019 wipe-out and worst election defeat since 1935. 

Corbyn's former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, told BBC Radio 4 that the election campaign had been void of arguments. 

He said: "In any election you need to have an argument and the Labour Party went into this election campaign almost policy-less. It was like having a campaign without putting [on] a campaign based upon what you wanted to do or what sort of society you wanted to build, or the policies you wanted to advocate. 

"We should never, ever, do that again."  

Momentum, set up in the Corbyn era to help him campaign, called the result was a disaster. 

A spokesperson said: "In 2017, we won over 50% of the vote in Hartlepool. A transformative socialist message has won in Hartlepool before, and it would have won again."

They said polling had shown 67% of Hartlepool voters want to increase investment in public services, 57% agreed with taking Royal Mail into public ownership and 69% support universal free broadband.

They added: "A campaign promising 'more of the same' didn't work." 

Former shadow minister, LLoyd Russell-Moyle, who supported Corbyn, Tweeted angrily about the party's attempts to be more patriotic under Starmer.

"Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well...or not?", he wrote.

The Guardian revealed in February a leaked party strategy document which advised Labour to make “use of the [union] flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”.

Left-wing commentator Aaron Bastani highlighted Starmer's stunt of visiting the wall paper department of John Lewis in the run up to the election as another error. In a bid to make a comment on Johnson's lavish flat refurbishment and the questions around who originally paid for it, Starmer was deliberately photographed holding a roll of wall paper in the department store.

Andrew Fisher, Corbyn's policy adviser between 2015 and 2019, said this morning that the party's official lines on the Hartlepool loss appear to avoid placing the blame on Starmer at all. 

He Tweeted that Starmer's supporters were clearly skirting around disucussing the fact that an apparently less credible leader managed to hold the seat twice. 

One of Labour's most senior women, Diane Abbott, who was shadow home secretary under Corbyn, said it had been a crushing defeat for Labour in Hartlepool.

She believed that it's "not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result".

Abbott, who is part of the socialist campaign group of Labour MPs, said: "Labour won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy."

But while Labour did hold the seat in 2019 general election, support had fallen significantly compared to 2017, with Labour's majority slashed by more than a half to just 3,500.

In the now-defunct Brexit party gained 10,000 votes, and there was concern within Labour that in the leave-leaning seat, these votes would be repurposed to the Conservatives. 

Throughout the by-election campaign, Mortimer herself maintained a notably low profile, but as polling still predicted a significant win for the Tories, there were indications that recent government investment in the area and a popular Conservative mayor in nearby Tees Valley had given the party a significant boost. 

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