The Hartlepool byelection spells disaster for Keir Starmer – and Labour

If Corbyn can’t win Hartlepool, and neither can Starmer, who can?

It looks like Labour is about to lose the seat of Hartlepool to the Conservatives for the first time since 1964.

A dramatic Survation poll shows that Jill Mortimer, the Tory candidate, has 49% support among the Red Wall constituency voters, easily beating the 42% share of Labour’s Paul Williams.

It’s one poll and it’s one view, and the obvious classic caveat is the one that the Tories are keen to stress – there’s only one poll that matters and that’s election day. But still, this has been billed as a key byelection to gauge the public mood, and all the signs are there that Labour is as far from power as ever.

So what on earth does all this mean? We can quibble over the extent, but nobody will be arguing that Sir Keir Starmer is anything but a clear departure from Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he is set to lose a seat that even Jezza didn’t manage to throw away in the great ‘Conservative Charity Seats Donation Fund’ event that was the 2019 General Election.

If we’re being completely fair, it’s probable that, absent the Brexit Party, the Tories could have taken that seat as it seems that entire block vote has now gone blue. But even if that were the case, even if it had gone blue and was now being contested in a byelection, surely Labour would need to be winning this back to show a direction, a path to Downing Street?

There could very likely be an election in summer 2023 – that is not a long time away. And if Hartlepool is any sort of marker, we could be in for an even larger Tory majority.

And where does that leave Labour? Five general election defeats in 13 years doesn’t bode well, particularly if the margin is only getting wider. And across the Labour spectrum as well – Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn (twice) and Sir Keir Starmer would all have tried to swap sides of the House with the Tories, and all will have failed. Who do you turn to next? Who’s the next in line to the throne? Which faction takes the wheel next time, and based on what?

Honestly, predicting the complete downfall of a major party in the UK is a fool’s game…but is that where we’re headed? I couldn’t tell you the vision, the purpose, the blueprint for government that the Labour Party would bring, so how could I vote for them? You may say the same about the Tories, and I’d agree, but they’re in power. They have the incumbency and stuff to talk about – what is the purpose of Labour at this point?

Fans of Corbyn are often of the opinion that the election defeat wasn’t wholly his fault, that he was definitely popular, that everyone loved him really, that it was the media’s fault and that he was treated unfairly. Putting aside the childishness of those arguments, they were summarily dismissed by the wider commentariat – Jeremy Corbyn has to own his failures as leader. And that was quite right.

So the same is now true of Starmer. If Labour lose Hartlepool, it’s his loss, nobody else’s. He has to own it. The million pound question for Labour then is; if not Corbyn, if not Starmer, then who?

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