Elections 2021: Sir Keir Starmer 'bitterly disappointed' as Labour suffers defeats

7 May 2021, 07:06 | Updated: 14 May 2021, 11:54

By Will Taylor

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he's "bitterly disappointed" by the local election results so far.

Labour lost the Hartlepool parliamentary seat to the Conservatives, more than 100 council seats and control of Sheffield City Council.

Boris Johnson meanwhile hailed the "very encouraging set of results so far" after the Conservatives won the Hartlepool by-election in a major blow to Sir Keir.

The seat turned blue, with Jill Mortimer elected as MP, after being held by Labour for almost 50 years - adding to a series of major wins for the party in this year's elections.

Her 15,529 votes were nearly 7,000 ahead of Labour's candidate Paul Williams, who polled 8,589.

In other key results:

- Tory Ben Houchen was re-elected as Tees Valley mayor by a landslide on the first count, taking almost 73% of the vote.

- Labour's Ros Jones was re-elected Doncaster mayor while Joanne Anderson became Liverpool's first black female mayor.

- With results available from 64 out of 143 councils, the Conservatives had a net gain of seven authorities and 155 seats, and Labour a net loss of four authorities and 142 seats.

- In Scotland, the SNP gained East Lothian from Labour and Ayr and Edinburgh Central from the Tories.

- Of the first 45 seats in the Scottish Parliamentary contest to declare, 37 went to the SNP, four to Liberal Democrats, three to the Tories and one to Labour.

- In Wales, after 30 seats had been declared Labour had 19, the Conservatives seven and Plaid Cymru four.

The Tories took full control of councils in Northumberland in the North East, Dudley in the Midlands and Harlow in Essex.

The Prime Minister hailed the results as "encouraging" during a visit to Coventry but has since gone to Hartlepool to celebrate with campaigners.

He told reporters: "For me, what this means is that it's a mandate for us to continue to deliver - not just for the people of Hartlepool, not just for the people of the North East, but across the whole of the country.

Read more: Local elections 2021: Live results

Read more: Polls close across UK as count gets underway

"The message has been across the local election campaign, across the whole of the UK, is that the public want politicians to get on with focusing on their needs and their priorities."

He promised once again to "build back better" after the pandemic, and hailed Brexit as an enabler of many of the Government's plans.

"This is a place that voted for Brexit, we got Brexit done, and now we're able to do other things thanks to that," he said.

The PM is joining them for victory celebrations as the Labour Party contemplates its next steps in the town and the country.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he will do "whatever is necessary" to rebuild trust in the party following its "bitterly disappointing" by-election defeat in Hartlepool.

Sir Keir Starmer said this afternoon: "Very often we have been talking to ourselves instead of to the country and we have lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool. I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.

"This is not a question of left or right, it is a question of whether we're facing the country.

"We have changed as a party. We have not made a strong enough case to the country."

Boris Johnson has hailed a "very encouraging set of results so far" after the Conservatives won the Hartlepool by-election
Boris Johnson has hailed a "very encouraging set of results so far" after the Conservatives won the Hartlepool by-election. Picture: PA Images

Results will continue to come in throughout Friday but early results in council contests across the country also show voters turning their backs on the party.

The Tories also took Redditch and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils from Labour in the Midlands, while Sir Keir's party has seen losses in many North East local authorities not just to the Conservative but also the Lib Dems, Greens and Independents.

Allies of the Labour leader acknowledged that it was an "absolutely shattering" blow as another pillar in the party's once impregnable "red wall" crumbled.

They insisted however that Sir Keir would not be deflected from the course he had set out when he succeeded Jeremy Corbyn a little over a year ago.

Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer won a comfortable majority in the Hartlepool by-election
Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer won a comfortable majority in the Hartlepool by-election. Picture: PA Images
An inflatable of Boris Johnson was put up in Hartlepool
An inflatable of Boris Johnson was put up in Hartlepool. Picture: PA Images

But there were calls from both the left and the right of the party for an urgent change of direction if they were to stand any chance of regaining power at the next general election.

On the left, former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it was not possible to blame Mr Corbyn for the setback and said Sir Keir needed to "think again" about his strategy.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the party had gone into the by-election "almost policy-less" and called for a return to a "real grassroots campaign".

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir visited the constituency three times during the campaign, with the Prime Minister's party hoping to secure a "hat trick" of wins in Hartlepool and retaining the mayoralties in Tees Valley and the West Midlands.

In a sign of the discontent on the Labour left, 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?"

The comment is a reference to a leaked strategy document which suggested Labour must make "use of the flag, veterans, dressing smartly" to win back voters in red wall seats in the party's former industrial heartlands.

Meanwhile, results from the Scottish Parliament elections, where independence was a key focus during campaigning, will come through on Friday and Saturday.