Poll puts Conservatives well ahead in key Hartlepool byelection

Keir Starmer says he takes responsibility for Labour performance in Thursday’s elections

Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised to take full responsibility for his party's performance in this week's elections after a poll pointed to a heavy defeat in a key byelection in Hartlepool.

Labour is defending the seat after its sitting MP resigned following sexual harassment allegations but a Survation poll on Tuesday put the Conservatives far ahead on 50 per cent to Labour’s 33 per cent.

Sir Keir said Labour still hoped to win Hartlepool but added that nobody believed the party could recover within a matter of months from its disastrous general election result in December 2019.

“I said on the day that I was elected that that was a mountain to climb. It is, we’re climbing it and I’ve got a burning desire to build a better future for our country, and Thursday is a first step towards that better future,” he told the BBC.


“I take full responsibility for the results, just as I take full responsibility for everything that happens in the Labour Party under my leadership.”

Local elections

Thursday also sees local elections throughout England, including 13 directly elected mayors, the London Assembly and 39 police and crime commissioner posts, and parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales. Although Labour's Sadiq Khan is expected to retain the London mayoralty by a big margin, the party is struggling to topple two high-profile Conservative mayors, Andy Street in the West Midlands and Ben Houchen in Tees Valley.

Both Conservatives were elected by wafer-thin majorities in 2017 but an Opinium poll on Tuesday put Mr Houchen ahead by 63 per cent to 37 per cent and Mr Street in front by 54 per cent to 37 per cent.

The Conservatives are hoping that successes in the West Midlands, Tees Valley and Hartlepool will show that they are tightening their political grip on former Labour heartlands despite the loss of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn as issues. The government announced on Tuesday that it will publish a White Paper later this year on "levelling up", its promise to spread prosperity from London to other parts of the country.

Johnson’s nanny

The Conservatives’ poll lead over Labour has narrowed in recent days following questions about how Mr Johnson funded the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. The prime minister’s official spokesman on Tuesday declined to deny reports that Mr Johnson asked Conservative donors to pay for his child’s nanny.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner demanded that he publish all correspondence with Conservative donors about funding his lifestyle.

“We are seeing what looks like another cover-up from the prime minister, who is trying to hide his attempts to fund his lifestyle through secret payments from wealthy Tory donors,” she said.

"Boris Johnson forcing his MPs to vote against free school meals and making stealth cuts to schools at the same time as asking Tory donors to pay for his own childcare is yet more evidence that it's one rule for him and his mates another for everyone else. What did these donors expect in return for their generosity, and what were they promised?

“With an investigation already under way into potentially illegal activity, the prime minister and Conservative party should stop taking the British people for fools and immediately publish all correspondence relating to all attempts to get Tory donors to fund the prime minister’s lifestyle.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times