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Local elections 2021: Labour infighting breaks out as Keir Starmer told nobody knows what he stands for

Sir Keir Starmer forces a grin as he leaves his London home this morning - Reuters

Sir Keir Starmer forces a grin as he leaves his London home this morning – Reuters

Sir Keir Starmer is under pressure from his own party to clarify what he stands for, after Labour suffered a historic defeat in Hartlepool this morning.

In-fighting broke out almost immediately after the results were announced, with Diane Abbott saying it was “not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result” adding: “Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy.”

John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, told Radio 4’s Today programme the party’s candidate Paul Williams had been sent to the electorate “almost naked” and “policy-less”.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a former shadow minister, attacked the “valueless flag waving and suit wearing” the leadership had adopted in recent months.

Steve Reed, shadow secretary for communities and local government, said the party should accept the results “with great humility”, but insisted Sir Keir was the man for the job.

A Labour source said Sir Keir would “take responsibility for these results” and for “fixing” the party’s electoral woes.

Follow the latest updates below.

11:31 AM

Tory candidate behind viral video gains seat from Labour rival

A Conservative candidate whose campaign video went viral has ousted his Labour rival in Blackburn with Darwen.

Tiger Patel beat the incumbent Maryam Batan with 1,209 votes to 1,096, to make the Audley & Queen’s Park ward a Tory gain.

11:19 AM

Don’t forget the fizz: Boris Johnson raises a glass on school visit

Boris Johnson holds a glass during a visit to Severn Trent Academy in Coventry, - Reuters

Boris Johnson holds a glass during a visit to Severn Trent Academy in Coventry, – Reuters

Boris Johnson hasn’t given his verdict on this morning’s stunning result in Hartlepool just yet – but he has been pictured raising a glass during a school visit.

He seems to have forgotten the fizz, though.

11:06 AM

Trust between Labour and public ‘breached for several years’, admits MP

A Labour frontbencher has admitted “the problem is with the Labour Party itself”, following the “shattering result” in Hartlepool.

Steve Reed told Times Radio it was the “aftershock from that earthquake” from 2019’s wipe-out.

But he added: “I think the problem is with the Labour Party itself. Trust has [been] breached over several years between the British public and the Labour Party.

“They don’t trust us to do the things we said in our last manifesto we would do… if we want to win back the trust of the British people we’ve got to go a lot further and faster than we’ve managed in the last year.”

11:01 AM

Shadow by name: The Labour frontbenchers at risk from a reshuffle

There have been rumours for some weeks now that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been preparing to give his shadow chancellor the boot.

Anneliese Dodds has struggled to cut through with the public and has very poor name recognition, as she struggles to land any punches on her polished, media-savvy counterpart Rishi Sunak. She seems prime candidate to be demoted in any potential reshuffle – but she is not alone.

Anneliese Dodds: Shadow chancellor by name, shadow by nature - PA

Anneliese Dodds: Shadow chancellor by name, shadow by nature – PA

Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow home secretary, could also be for the heave-ho as Sir Keir looks to reset the party following today’s election results.

However the big question remains whether he fills any vacant seats with MPs on the left of the party, following widespread criticism of his direction this morning. or whether he continues to turn the ship away from the Corbyn-era.

Nick Thomas-Symonds is also said to be at risk from a looming Labour reshuffle  - Getty

Nick Thomas-Symonds is also said to be at risk from a looming Labour reshuffle – Getty

10:52 AM

Could Welsh Labour cut a deal with Plaid Cymru?

Labour may have to share power with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Parliament, in a potential new blow to the Union, writes Ben Riley-Smith.

Prior to the election, UK Government figures feared that Mark Drakeford’s administration will have to cut a deal with pro-independence Plaid to stay in power.

One Cabinet minister said that could lead to concessions that harm attempts to keep the UK together. Concerns were especially triggered by Mr Drakeford’s comments earlier this year that the UK in its current form was over – seen as opening up political space for a potential deal with Plaid.

That scenario now seems to be on the cards, with briefings from Labour sources this morning suggesting the party was not confident about winning an overall majority in the Welsh Parliament.

The results will emerge over the next few days.

10:47 AM

Future wave ‘likely to be smaller than thought’, says JCVI head

The success of the UK’s vaccine programme means that any “future wave is likely to be smaller than previously anticipated”, the head of the JCVI has said.

Speaking during a press conference confirming the new advice that under-40s should be given alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Professor Lim Wei Shen said “We note the very high levels of vaccine uptake and the speed of the rollout.

“It is the strength of the vaccine programme over the last few weeks and hopefully continuing in the next few weeks that will protect us over the longer term,” Prof Lim said. “If the vaccine programme continues to go from strength to strength, any future wave is likely to be smaller than previously anticipated.”

He added: “Reductions int he vaccine uptake or speed in deployment in the coming weeks will increase the size of a future wave. In that scenario, any vaccine offered early is preferred to vaccine offered too late.”

10:38 AM

Under-40s will be offered alternative to AstraZeneca over ‘extremely small risk’ of blood clots

Under-40s are to be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has confirmed.

The JCVI said there is an “extremely small risk” of people suffering blood clots after having the jab, but the risk of serious illness with Covid-19 also drops for younger people as infection rates fall across the country.

While the balance of benefit and risk for the AstraZeneca vaccine is very favourable for older people, it is more finely balanced for younger groups, who do not tend to suffer serious coronavirus illness.

You can read more about this in our Covid blog here.

10:34 AM

Holyrood elections will ‘come down to the wire in some seats’, says SNP minister

We may not learn until tomorrow whether Nicola Sturgeon has secured a majority in Holyrood - Shutterstock

We may not learn until tomorrow whether Nicola Sturgeon has secured a majority in Holyrood – Shutterstock

The focus of the election results is now shifting to Scotland, where results are expected to start filtering through later today.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s justice secretary and a candidate for the Glasgow Pollok constituency, told reporters: “I think the SNP’s going to have a good night, but I think other parties also I can see there’s an uptick in their vote too.

“So really it’s going to come down to the wire in some seats I suspect.”

We are not likely to know whether the SNP has a majority until tomorrow.

10:24 AM

Sir Keir Starmer is running out of time

The name of George Lansbury will ring a bell with only the keenest students of politics, but it could one day be replaced with Sir Keir Starmer in the official history of the Labour Party, writes Gordon Rayner.

It was Lansbury who, in 1935, became the last Labour leader to step down without fighting a general election, a fate that could yet befall Sir Keir if he cannot turn around his party’s fortunes – and fast.

“He’s got about a year to demonstrate that he can turn things around,” said one Labour MP, “otherwise the party will increasingly start to look for someone who can inspire the public in a way that so far he has failed to do.”

The clock is ticking on Sir Keir’s leadership: Read more here.

10:11 AM

Plague on their houses: Dominic Cummings savages No 10 and Labour

Never one to miss an opportunity to have his say. Dominic Cummings has hit out at both Boris Johnson and Labour over today’s election results.

The former adviser has fired off a series of tweets attacking “pundits” for “post-hoc explanations” of why the shift in voting patterns was inevitable.

Mr Cummings added: “[Keir Starmer] is a beta-lawyer-gamma-politician, like ~all in SW1 he obsesses on media reality not actual reality…

“We have a No10 & Opposition who see their job as media entertainment service & neither knows how to be this better than [Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson]. Neither will try to be… a government.”

Mr Cummings is, of course, due to give evidence before MPs in a couple of weeks.

09:54 AM

New Hartlepool MP vows to do ‘everything to repay trust’ after historic vote

The new Conservative MP for Hartlepool has said she will “do everything I can to repay the trust” that voters have placed in her.

In one of her first interview since this morning’s result, Jill Mortimer told LBC radio: “I’ve seen so many opportunities that have been missed here, so I will be taking a hand in making sure that we take a grasp of those opportunities and make them what they should have been.”

Challenged over the fact that it is the Tories who have been in power for the last decade, she replied: “The opportunities have been missed by the Labour MPs who have been in power here for the last 57 years…

“They’ve failed to act, to secure the opportunities that they could for their town which is what I’ll be doing.

“I’m going to be working with this government and hopefully Ben Houchen and the Conservative Tees Valley Mayor to bring the jobs and investment into this town that we need.”

09:44 AM

Have your say: What is the biggest challenge for Labour?

The parties and commentators are picking through the results of yesterday’s elections, and in the main, interpreting them according their long-held view.

For the Labour left, it’s proof that Sir Keir Starmer is weak and lacking in policies – and should be more radical.

Blairites argue that Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn are still casting a long shadow over the party.

But Tories have pointed to a more general paradigm shift in voter patterns: a rejection of Labour’s metropolitan approach in favour of more traditional values alongside a focus on economic security.

But what do you think is the biggest challenge? Have your say in the poll below.

09:35 AM

Trust is ‘a real issue for Labour’ in pro-Brexit seats, says Tory MP

A Conservative MP has hit back at suggestions that Boris Johnson has an issue of trust, saying voters have less faith in Labour to stick by their word

Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, said trust had been raised by voters in relation to “whether Keir Starmer means what he says”

“It is a real issue around Labour and Brexit – they said in 2017 the would go with it and they didn’t. Keir Starmer was at the forefront of that in 2019 and now he is leader,” he added.

“The people here don’t trust Keir Starmer to fulfil what he says he is going to do – that is one of the real issues Labour face here.”

09:30 AM

Labour reshuffle would be a mistake, says John McDonnell

Sir Keir Starmer’s office has been too “controlling”, a former shadow chancellor has said.

Asked about a possible reshuffle, John McDonnell said it would be “a mistake” to undertake one on the basis of apportioning blame for Labour’s performance in the elections.

“The leader’s office has largely controlled the whole nature of campaigning,” he said. “Shadow cabinet members can’t make statement without approval… so to blame them would be unfair.

“It would be real mistake as well – you shouldn’t be blaming other people when you have so centrally controlled the campaign.”

But he called on Sir Keir to “learn lessons” from previous leaders, to “build a cabinet of left, right and centre”.

09:25 AM

Labour must be ‘more radical’, says John McDonnell

Sir Keir Starmer is presiding over a “policy vacuum”, the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said.

The MP for Hayes and Harlington told BBC News that the Labour leader had been “trading off for quite a while the idea that the party is “under new management” – but if you are saying that, you have got to say what that means in policy terms and what sort of society you want to create.”

He called on Sir Keir to set out a “vision” including pledges to abolish child poverty, setting an income guarantee and a jobs guarantee.

Mr McDonnell said there was also a “Brexit overhang”, saying: “People voted the way they did in the referendum. Respect that, accept that and move on so we can start tackling the real issues people are facing.”

He added that Labour needed to be “more radical than we were in 2019” because of the economic impact of Covid.

09:13 AM

Why the UK’s political realignment is a tough nut for Labour to crack

Lord Mandelson might be blaming the election result on Jeremy Corbyn (again), but Gavin Barwell is having none of it.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, the former adviser to Theresa May said the “realignment” in politics is down to more than just the former Labour leader and Brexit.

“In many parts of the world, politics is becoming less about economics and more about culture, allowing the centre right to win more working class support,” he says. “The Conservatives have embraced this realignment; it is very hard for Labour to do so.”

The whole thread is too long to post here but this gives you a taste:

09:05 AM

Scottish Parliament elections count gets under way

Alex Salmond watches votes being counted for the Scottish parliamentary elections - PA

Alex Salmond watches votes being counted for the Scottish parliamentary elections – PA

The elections drama is likely to continue over several days, with counting only just under way in the Holyrood vote.

Results are due to come in over two days as coronavirus safety measures ruled out the traditional overnight count.

Votes in 46 of the 73 constituency seats began being counted at about 9am, with the first results expected in the afternoon. The P&J Live/Teca arena in Aberdeen was among the first to start counting at 9am on Friday, and Alba Party leader Alex Salmond is at the centre to watch votes being tallied.

The remaining 27 constituency seats will be counted from 9am tomorrow, after which the regional seats will be allocated. All results are expected to be declared by Saturday evening.

08:52 AM

Sir Keir Starmer forces a smile as he leaves his home

Sir Keir Starmer leaves his home after local elections - Reuters

Sir Keir Starmer leaves his home after local elections – Reuters

We can expect a statement from the Labour leader later today.

08:41 AM

Labour took Hartlepool ‘for granted’, says town’s new Tory MP

Labour has taken Hartlepool “for granted”, the constituency’s new Conservative MP has said, following a stunning victory that punches another hole in the Red Wall.

The seat has switched from red to blue for the first time since the constituency was created. Jill Mortimer, the Tory candidate, was elected with 15,529 votes to Labour’s 8,589 votes.

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 not only that, I am 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.”

08:35 AM

Tories take control of Dudley council

The Conservatives have taken control of Dudley from no overall control, at a council where Labour previously had the highest number of seats.

With 22 seats declared of the 26 being contested, the Conservatives had taken 21 and Labour just one.

Here is how the current tally looks.

08:31 AM

Labour sent candidate into Hartlepool ‘almost naked’, says John McDonnell

John McDonnell has downplayed suggestions that Labour needs a new leader, saying Sir Keir Starmer has “got to be given his chance”.

But the former shadow chancellor attacked the handling of the Hartlepool campaign, which left candidate Paul Williams “almost naked”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Keir’s got to be given his chance and I’ve said that all the way along.

“I’m not going to be one of those people treating (him) the way they treated Jeremy (Corbyn) – always challenging him, coups and all the rest… [but] we must never again send our candidates into an election campaign almost naked, without a policy programme, without a clear view on what sort of society you want to create.

08:23 AM

Number crunching: Just how significant is the Hartlepool result?

Colleagues have been crunching the numbers to understand just how significant the Hartlepool result is today – and the short answer is ‘very’.

  • At 28.7 per cent, this is the lowest vote share for a Labour-affiliated candidate since 1943 – 78 years – when they gained 11.3 per cent of the vote.

  • This is a 16 per cent swing from 2019 to the Conservatives. The Labour vote is down by nine per cent since 2019, and 23.8 per cent from 2017.

  • The Conservative vote is up 23 per cent since 2019 – not as much as the Brexit Party gained in 2019 (25.8 per cent).

  • This is the first time Hartlepool has elected a Tory since 1959, when the constituency was called “The Hartlepools”.

  • With 51.2 per cent, this is the highest vote share for the Conservatives since 1943.

  • Hartlepool voted 69.6 per cent in favour of Brexit – 22nd highest vote out of 650 constituencies

08:18 AM

Be like ‘Uncle Joe’ and work with left-wingers, Labour MP tells Starmer

Corbynite Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle has called on Sir Keir Starmer to bring left-wingers from the party to the top table rather than ‘pillory’ them.

The Brighton Kemptown MP, who resigned as a shadow minister last year citing a “campaign by the right-wing media” that had resulted in abusive calls to his staff, tweeted: “If Keir wants to be a ‘British Biden’ he should learn from USA Democrats/

“Uncle Joe speaks for woke liberals and blue collar left at same time,” he added.

08:03 AM

Lisa Nandy and Andy Burnham joint favourites to take Labour crown

Lisa Nandy and Andy Burnham are joint favourites to take the reins from Sir Keir Starmer, after Labour’s dismal performance at the polls.

Sir Keir is 4/1 to be replaced this year, although Ladbrokes gives the same odds for him to cling on for another year.

Shadow foreign secretary Ms Nandy, who lost out during last year’s leadership campaign, would worry the Conservatives given her focus on towns and her long-standing acceptance of Brexit, which saw her plead with the Corbyn regime not to back calls for a second referendum.

Greater Manchester mayor Mr Burnham was seen as a powerful voice for the North during wrangling over financial support during lockdown.

The pair are level-pegging to take over, at 8/1 apiece.

07:56 AM

‘Covid and Corbyn’ to blame for election result – not Brexit – insists Lord Mandelson

Lord Mandelson has claimed Labour’s dismal performance at the polls is down to “the two Cs – Covid and Corbyn”.

The Blairite architect of New Labour claimed it was “wrong to obsess over Brexit” as the reason for Hartlepool’s switch to the Conservatives, saying it was more about “social and cultural attitudes” over “normal” economic and class patterns.

“As a result of Brexit people are learning new habits of voting in Northern England and elsewhere but believe it or not, not on one door did people raise Brexit with me.

“The one thing they did raise with me was Jeremy Corbyn – he is still casting a very dark cloud,” the peer added. “He still gets them going on the doorstep.”

07:51 AM

John McDonnell: Labours Hartlepool campaign was ‘almost policy-less’

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the Labour Party went into the Hartlepool by-election campaign “almost policy-less”.

The one-time Corbyn ally told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Part of the problem in this election campaign was it was almost – well, in any election you need to have an argument, you have to put up an argument and I think the Labour Party went into this election campaign almost policy-less.

“It was like having an argument without putting an argument or a campaign without putting a campaign based upon what you wanted to do or what sort of society you wanted to build or the policies you want to advocate, and they should never ever do that again.”

07:48 AM

‘Lose, lose, lose, lose’: Lord Mandelson sums up Labour’s dire straits

Lord Mendelson has put the situation facing Labour starkly.

The former Hartlepool MP and one of the architects of New Labour told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was “gutted” by the result today.

“I also feel a mild fury that the last 10 years of what we have been doing in the Labour party… because that is above all fundamentally the explanation of what has happened today.”

“Until.. all of these people who were with Jeremy Corbyn leading the party to the worst possible defeat we could have imagined in 2019 grasp the scale of the challenge and transformation it needs to take, we will be here again and again.

“We have not won a general election in 16 years… the last 11 general elections read ‘lose, lose, lose, lose, Blair, Blair, Blair, lose, lose, lose, lose'”.

07:36 AM

David Cameron to get grilling over Greensill next week

Just breaking away from election results briefly as the Treasury select committee has announced that David Cameron and Lex Greensill will be giving evidence next week.

“The Committee is determined to answer the key question as to whether HM Treasury responded appropriately to the lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, including that carried out by David Cameron,” said chair and former Treasury minister Mel Stride.

“We also want to establish what lessons there are from Greensill’s collapse for the operation of the financial system… The Committee will want to carefully examine their actions in relation to Greensill Capital and its interactions with HM Treasury.”

07:34 AM

Labour’s Hartlepool citadel finally toppled by election ‘aftershock’

Going, going, gone. Shortly after 7am today, for the first time since its inception as a constituency in 1974, Labour lost control of Hartlepool, writes Joe Shute.

Fittingly, the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate on the ballot paper for the local by-election was named “The Incredible Flying Brick”. Because here at the count in Hartlepool’s Mill House Leisure Centre, lay the rubble of Labour’s Red Wall.

If the 2019 general election was a so-called “political earthquake”, then according to Jim McMahon, the Labour shadow cabinet member for transport who has decamped to Hartlepool for the past six weeks to lead the campaign, this morning’s result was the “aftershock”.

Read more from Joe here.

07:32 AM

Voters have ‘moved on from Brexit’ to stick with Tories, claims peer

Today’s election results demonstrate that voters have “moved on from Brexit” and are backing the Tories more generally, a Conservative peer has said.

Lord Hayward said the Hartlepool by-election was a “staggering result”, adding he had “never expected such a large margin”.

But he noted local council results were demonstrating a shift away from Labour as “blue collar England moves significantly towards the Conservatives”.

Former Labour voters had “moved in two stages”, he told Sky News, firstly in backing Brexit or Ukip.

“They have moved on from Brexit in 2019 or earlier and many of them, a very high proprotion, have voted Conservative in this occasion,” he added.

07:21 AM

Labour defeats will keep coming if party ignores voters, says shadow minister

Labour’s shadow secretary for communities and local government has said his party needs to listen to voters or the “defeats will keep coming”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, Steve Reed said: “We need to respond to this defeat in Hartlepool with great humility. If we do not listen to voters and hear what they’re telling us and change, we won’t deserve to win.”

The party, which is renowned for infighting, spends too much time “having battles about which part of Labour’s history you most prefer”, he added.

“We need to address the concerns of the British public today and in the future, not in the past – if we don’t do that, these defeats will keep coming.”

07:19 AM

Defeated Hartlepool candidate congratulates rival

Labour’s defeated Hartlepool candidate Dr Paul Williams has congratulated his rival as he says he is “off to do the important job” of taking his children to school.

07:11 AM

Will a Leave-backing MP become next Labour leader?

Sir Keir Starmer’s claim that “we are all leavers now” appears to have fallen flat – not least because he and Labour’s candidate in Hartlepool are both associated in people’s minds with Remain.

So is it time for the party to consider a Leave-backing alternative for leader?

One challenge is that some of the more visible Labour leavers such as Kate Hoey and Frank Field have – ahem – left.

But Lisa Nandy, who many Tories feared would become leader last year, was critical of attempts to hold a second referendum and has championed the “towns” agenda. Today’s results must put her back in play as a serious contender to take over.

07:00 AM

Labour frontbencher insists ‘Keir gets it’, following stunning defeat

A Labour frontbencher has insisted that leader Sir Keir Starmer “gets” the scale of work required to win back support, despite the defeat in Hartlepool this morning.

“Our leadership has changed for the better, but the voters aren’t convinced that Labour has too,” shadow schools minister Wes Streeting tweeted.

“This is a huge and urgent task. Keir gets it. So must we.”

06:57 AM

Tories take control of Northumberland council

The Conservatives have taken control of Northumberland from no overall control after gaining one seat, with Labour losing one.

The new council line-up is Conservatives 34, Labour 21, independents seven, Liberal Democrats three and Greens two.

Use our tool below to see what the latest tally for local councils is.

06:56 AM

Voter alienation from Labour runs deep, claims Tory MP

Voter “alienation” from Labour runs deep in places like Hartlepool, the MP for nearby Middlesbrough has said.

“The attempt to steamroller their vote to leave the EU – led by the likes of Keir Starmer – will not be forgotten or forgiven, and stripped away all illusion that this was their party anymore,” Simon Clarke tweeted.

“That alienation is now being compounded by what they see Labour doing – choosing to focus on woke identity politics vs a Conservative government focused on recovery, jobs and growth, and pride in both nation and in place.”

The former minister argues that many Labour MPs ” really don’t much like the country they live in”.

06:48 AM

Voters don’t understand that Labour has changed, says shadow minister

Labour’s shadow secretary for communities and local government has said the party must do more to communicate its change in approach, following the devastating defeat at the Hartlepool by-election.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Steve Reed said he expected “patchy” results from Super Thursday over the coming days.

But while he stressed the reaction on the doorstep was “a lot warmer than it has been in recent years”, he admitted “that isn’t enough if it’s not translating into votes”.

Mr Reed said: “I think people understand the leader has changed, they don’t understand the party has changed, because we haven’t yet done enough to prove that.

“So the job in front of us all over the next few weeks, led by Keir, will be to get out there, re-engage with the British public, and reconnect our party so that we can show our party can deliver on the aspirations and ambitions that people have for themselves their families and their communities.”

06:39 AM

‘People felt taken advantage of by Labour’, says Tory co-chair

The people of Hartlepool backed the Conservatives because Jill Mortimer’s campaign message “was one of change”, party co-chairman Amanda Milling has said.

She told the BBC that “people have felt taken advantage of by Labour”, which is why they opted for the Tories for the first time since the seat’s inception.

Ms Milling noted that the Brexit vote was pivotal, saying: “In 2019, the Prime Minister made a promise to get Brexit done and that is what we did last year”.

Labour’s candidate Paul Williams was a staunch Remain supporter.

06:33 AM

Starmer must ‘think again’ about Labour strategy, says Diane Abbott

Sir Keir Starmer has been told to “think again about his strategy”, after Labour suffered a historic defeat in Hartlepool this morning.

Diane Abbott, who was shadow home secretary during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and a close ally of the former leader, tweeted: “Crushing defeat for Labour in Hartlepool.

“Not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result. Labour won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy.”

06:29 AM

Labour candidate Paul Williams makes a quick getaway after stunning defeat

After Jill Mortimer, the newly-elected Conservative MP for Hartlepool, had given her victory speech, the returning officer asked if anyone else wanted a turn at the microphones.

None of the other candidates took up the offer.

In fact, as my colleague Tony Diver found, Labour candidate Paul Williams could not get out of there quickly enough.

06:24 AM

Hartlepool win a ‘historic victory’, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has said the Conservative’s Hartlepool win was a “historic victory”.

The Health Secretary said he was looking forward to working with new MP Jill Mortimer.

06:19 AM

‘We are going backwards’, says Corbynite Labour MP

An ally of Jeremy Corbyn and former frontbencher has claimed that Labour is “going backwards” after the huge upset in Hartlepool.

“Labour’s leadership needs to urgently change direction,” tweeted Richard Burgon.

06:17 AM

Corbynite group Momentum blasts ‘disaster’ in Hartlepool

The knives are out for Sir Keir Starmer following the stunning Labour defeat in Hartlepool confirmed just moments ago.

Momentum, the left-wing Labour group set up during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, tweeted after the Hartlepool defeat: “This result is a disaster.

“In 2017, we won over 50% of the vote in Hartlepool. Now it looks like we’ve lost it to the Tories.

“A transformative socialist message has won in Hartlepool before, and it would have won again.”

06:09 AM

New Hartlepool MP Jill Mortimer says it is ‘time for change’

Jill Mortimer has thanked the police and the council officers for “ensuring today’s election and count went smoothly” in light of the pandemic.

She says it was “a tough contest, but one that has been fought with dignity and respect”.

Her campaign was “based on local issues of real concern to the community here,” she adds.

“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 adds. “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.”

05:58 AM

Watch: Inflatable Boris Johnson outside Hartlepool by-election count

A giant inflatable version of the Prime Minister has popped up outside the count in Hartlepool, where the Conservatives are expected to claim victory shortly.

The 30ft balloon has been organised by a local businessman.

05:56 AM

Redditch MP praises ‘incredible result’ as Tories take council from Labour

Redditch Tory MP Rachel Maclean has praised the “incredible result” for the party as it won control of the borough council from Labour.

“The town have elected local people with massive vision drive and determination. I’m proud to stand with them,” she tweeted.

Nuneaton and Harlow have also turned blue – see below for more.

05:53 AM

Watch: Labour ‘not close to winning’ by-election, concedes shadow minister

The official result in Hartlepool is yet to be declared, but shadow minister Jim McMahon has already made it clear that Labour does not expect to win.

05:49 AM

‘This started in 2017,’ says Tory MP as Hartlepool looks set to turn blue

The electoral shift from Labour to Conservative in working class heartlands “started in 2017,” a senior Tory MP has said.

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, says the chipping away of the Red Wall pre-dated the election that saw Boris Johnson first sweep to victory.

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.

Even wearing a face mask, there is no hiding her delight at what is expected to be a stunning victory over Labour.

Conservative's Jill Mortimer (third from right) arrives at Mill House Leisure Centre in Hartlepool - PA

Conservative’s Jill Mortimer (third from right) arrives at Mill House Leisure Centre in Hartlepool – PA

Jill Mortimer is expected to be named the new MP for Hartlepool - Reuters

Jill Mortimer is expected to be named the new MP for Hartlepool – Reuters

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

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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