Conservatives make big gains in English local elections as Labour suffers

Starmer criticised as Tories win Hartlepool byelection while SNP doing well in Scotland

Labour leader Keir Starmer says that he takes "full responsibility" after his party lost badly to the ruling Conservatives in the northeastern English town of Hartlepool byelection. Video: Reuters

 

The Conservatives have made major gains in English local elections and captured the Westminster seat of Hartlepool which has been in Labour’s hands for half a century. Labour performed well in Wales, where it is in government and the Scottish National Party is on course to remain in power in Edinburgh.

Boris Johnson hailed the result as evidence that people wanted the government which delivered Brexit to get on with delivering everything else.

“Number one is continuing the vaccine rollout, making sure that we go from jabs, jabs, jabs to jobs, jobs, jobs, making sure we have a strong economic recovery. But then get on with the massive project for this country, and it is a very ambitious thing, and every government has tried it to some extent but I don’t think any government has tried it as wholeheartedly as this government is trying, and that is uniting and levelling up,” he said.

“And the basic idea is that there is genius and talent and enthusiasm and flair and imagination everywhere in the country, but opportunity is not evenly distributed. That’s the basic idea and that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Labour suffered heavy losses in its former industrial heartlands which backed Brexit in 2016 but was struggling too in the south of England. Keir Starmer said the party had lost the trust of working people in places like Hartlepool, adding that he took full responsibility for the result but making clear he intends to remain leader.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer leaving his home in London on Friday. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer leaving his home in London on Friday. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

“I take full responsibility for the results, and I will take full responsibility for fixing things. We have changed as a party, but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country. 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,” he told Sky News.

“This is not a question of left or right. It is a question of whether we are facing the country. We have changed as a party but we’ve not made a strong enough case to the country, we’ve lost that connection, that trust, and I intend to rebuild that and do whatever is necessary to rebuild that trust.”

Sir Keir faced the harshest criticism from allies of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who accused him of lacking vision and urging him to embrace a new strategy by putting forward policies that would attract voters. But Peter Mandelson, who was Hartlepool’s MP from 1992 to 2004, said that although voters had moved on from Brexit, Labour must embrace “Brexit values” to succeed.

“In a sense it’s Brexit values, or a cultural set of attitudes, that have overlain the economic interests, or the class identity, that people have in a constituency like Hartlepool. And the Labour party is not making that cultural connection with those people,” he said.

“And it’s not about whether or not we’re in the European Union. It’s about broader social attitudes and a broader cultural outlook that people have, which the Labour party has got to understand and connect with once again if we’re going to stand any chance of winning back the support and votes of those people.”

The Conservatives failed to win most of their target seats from Labour in Wales and although Scotland’s final outcome will not be clear until Saturday, the SNP was far ahead with the only question surrounding whether the party would win an overall majority.