Nikolay Kalinin shares his thoughts on Labour’s electoral hiding in Hartlepool
On Friday, came the result that everybody expected: The Labour Party lost the Hartlepool by-election to the Conservatives and for the first time since the constituency was created in 1974, a party other than Labour has the seat.
The outcome is both surprising and not surprising; after all, back in 2016 nearly 70% of Hartlepool voters supported leaving the EU, and the successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout has ensured that the government has the majority of public support. Yet in 2017, the Corbyn led Labour managed to retain the seat, even gaining the majority of the vote, and in the 2019 election Labour retained the seat, even though the party was seen as the biggest opponent of Brexit.
The truth is that there’s no single reason why Labour lost the by-election; Lord Mandelson for example has attributed Labour’s defeat to the “two Cs – Corbyn and COVID,” while casting Brexit as a secondary issue: “Believe it or not, not on one door that I knocked did a single voter mention Brexit to me. The one thing they did raise with me however is Jeremy Corbyn – he is still casting a very dark cloud over Labour,” Mandelson remarked.
Labour’s defeat and Jill Mortimer’s win also lies in the absence of the Brexit Party, now named Reform UK; back in 2019 the party split the vote, gaining 25.8% whereas the Conservatives gained 28.9%, which was instrumental in allowing Labour to win with just 37% of the vote. Had the Brexit Party not run that year, the Conservatives would have definitely won.
The disconnect between Labour and the electorate can be evidenced in Friday’s episode of BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast, where several callers voiced their dissatisfactions with the party; one Conservative voter and small business owner stated that Labour “have taken Hartlepool for granted” and “chose a guy who was a devout Remainer.” Another caller added that Labour “needs to work on actually speaking to the working classes again” and connect with “small business owners, self-employed, Deliveroo drivers” as they “are the new working class.”
The choice of Paul Williams as Labour’s candidate for Hartlepool was also a factor in the party’s undoing in the by-election, since his choice once again evokes a disconnect between Labour and the voters they are trying to appeal to; not only was Williams an MP for another constituency – namely Stockton South – but he also opposed Brexit when most of the voters in his seat voted to leave the EU. You shouldn’t choose a Remainer to represent a Brexiteer constituency, just like you shouldn’t choose Priti Patel as ambassador for a mental health organisation, would be my conclusion.
Even Sir Keir Starmer seems to agree that Labour has been disconnected with the voters, as he reacted to the election results by saying, “Very often we’ve been talking to ourselves, instead of to the country, and we’ve lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool. I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.”
To a lesser extent another reason for Labour’s defeat is the fact that their previous MP, Mike Hill, was a sexual predator, which makes me wonder: “Why was Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, not forced out of his seat considering he was shown to be a degenerate with an unrestrained sexual desire.”
So, what is my overall analysis? Labour’s defeat in Hartlepool and the collapse of an important part of the ‘Red Wall’ was brought on by a wide range of factors, ranging from the time of Corbyn’s leadership, the successful vaccination rollout by the Conservative government, and also the issue over EU, which suggests that Brexit is still a prevalent issue among the British public.
Many would blame Corbyn for where the party is now, and I can agree that he dragged Labour down in 2019, but the truth is that Sir Keir might actually drag them down even further; whereas Corbyn tried to appeal to the “new working class” of young workers – which was essential in getting more young people to vote in 2017 – Starmer has decided to go after the older homeowners who are more likely to vote Conservative.
If Labour wants to regain the seat and have a chance at challenging ‘Bosie The Clown’ and his sleazy Eton friends in 2024, they must connect with their core working-class electorate, no matter whether they voted for Brexit or not. The ‘Wallpapergate’ sleaze scandal seems to have no impact on the government at all, so it’s probably best if Labour now instead dedicates its time to connecting with those that actually could get them elected.
Pictured top: Sir Keir Starmer campaigning in Hartlepool with wannabe MP for the Paul Williams.