British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won a major victory on Friday, winning a seat in the northeast town of Hartlepool – a seat held by the opposition Labor Party since its inception and a brick in the red wall of the Plow now in ruins. “
Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer got almost 52% of the vote, while Labor candidate Paul Williams only got around 29%.
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“Labor has taken the people of Hartlepool for granted for too long,” Mortimer said in his victory speech.
Johnson’s Tories had crushed Labor in the 2019 general election in part by winning key seats in parts of north, central England and Wales that had voted Labor for generations. Seats like Burnley, Wrexham and Stoke-on-Trent have all turned conservative blue.
The Brexit issue, which Johnson promised to respect and which was popular with many working class voters traditionally supporting Labor in the north of the country, and the shift of Labor to the far left under the then leader Jeremy Corbyn were seen as the main reasons for Labor’s crushing defeat.
Since then, Corbyn has been replaced by the more moderate Keir Starmer, who has sought to bring the party more to the center. The Brexit issue has largely been resolved and was eclipsed in mid-2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, even after a year in which Johnson was widely criticized for his handling of lockdowns, both by those who thought he had not gone far enough and those who felt they were too strict and saw an economic downturn , the Conservatives still managed to win the seat in Hartlepool.
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Johnson on Friday hailed Brexit and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as the keys to victory. This deployment has been in stark contrast to the disastrous deployment of the European Union – something Brexit supporters have noted.
“What happened is they can see we’ve done Brexit,” Johnson said during a visit to the city on Friday, where he posed next to an inflatable of him- even. “What people want us to do now is keep delivering everything else. The first is keep rolling out vaccines, making sure we go from jab to jab, jab to jobs, to jobs, to jobs. “
The Conservatives’ victory is likely to increase the pressure on Starmer, and the Labor Party in general, which has seen its traditional crater of working class support as it turns more drastically to the left under Corbyn and has continued to be divided. by identity politics and “awakened” issues – – popular among leftist activists but unpopular with many of its voters. Starmer has faced a crackdown from the left and accusations of being too bland against the more rowdy Johnson.
Starmer’s lack of impact on the electorate was demonstrated in a televised moment this week in which a Sky News reporter arrested a voter in Hartlepool and singled out the Labor leader, who was visiting the town, and him asked if she knew who he was – to what the woman said she didn’t.
“It’s Keir Starmer”, the reporter said.
“Good,” the woman replied categorically. “No idea.”
Members of the “Blairite” wing of the party are likely to urge Starmer to continue to alienate the party from the Corbynite left; Corbyn’s allies were already sharpening their knives – noting that even Corbyn had managed to hold the siege of Hartlepool.
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“A crushing defeat for Labor at Hartlepool,” tweeted former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, a key ally of Corbyn. “Jeremy Corbyn cannot be blamed for this result. Labor has won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer needs to rethink his strategy.”
There were, however, a few highlights for the Labor Party. The mayors of London and Manchester, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham, were on track for re-election, while the Labor government in Wales is expected to remain in power.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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