Labour have conceded the Hartlepool by-election is all-but lost, as sources predict a huge Tory majority.
Keir Starmer ’s party is defending a majority of 3,595 from the 2019 general election – when Labour avoided losing the seat only after the Brexit Party refused to step aside in the seat, splitting the right-wing vote.
It came as early results suggested a grim night Mr Starmer’s party – with Labour losing seats to the Tories in a raft of Northern councils.
Votes continue to be counted in the North Eastern town – with turnout an unusually high 42.55%.
The final result is not expected to be declared before 5.30am.
But almost as soon as polls closed, Labour sources were predicting a torrid set of results for their party – and a “big Tory majority” in Hartlepool.
And just before 3am, Labour Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon had effectively conceded defeat.
He 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.”
The likely disappointing result provoked anger among some Labour MPs on the left of the party.
MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle appeared to mock the party’s attempts to change its image. He said: “Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well… or not?”
But 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.”
“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.”