Keir Starmer grilled by host over 'tough contest' in Hartlepool
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Professor Tony Travers suggested the potential election drubbing would serve to highlight the perception by traditional Labour voters that the party “had taken them for granted” for too long. Prof Travers, the Director of LSE London, was speaking after the publication of a new Survation poll which gave Tory candidate Jill Mortimer a whopping 17-point lead over Labour challenger Dr Paul Williams.
He said the fact the constituency voted to leave the EU by 69 percent to 31 percent in 2016 could not be ignored – even though Labour had apparently done precisely that.
He told Express.co.uk: “It looks as if the Boris Johnson electoral magic works in Hartlepool and that people in many parts of the north of England still are in a mood to send a message to the Labour Party, which is that you, the Labour Party, have taken us the electorate for granted for decades.
“Traditional Labour heartland voters have been more affected by the economic change over the last 50 or 60 years.
“And via Brexit, they have been given an opportunity to articulate the sense of they have not been well treated by the Left.”
By contrast, Prof Travers said: “The equivalent rock solid Conservative voters probably feel that the Conservative Party which they have voted for, for years, so long as it delivers relatively low taxes and doesn’t get involved in their life too much, they can go on voting for it.
“Labour does have a problem, which is that it needs to be able to recast itself so it can appeal to half the voters, which clearly it does not.”
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In a sense, the problems facing Dr Williams were a sort of mirror-image of those facing Brexiteer Sean Bailey, the Tories’ Mayoral candidate in London, who looks to be odds of suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of Labour incumbent Sadie Khan, Prof Travers suggested.
He explained: “It’s hard not to infer that, given how politically salient both the Leave and Remain side are for their own supporters, that parties probably will for some years to come have to take account of people’s feelings about Brexit.
“And therefore standing a Remainer in an area that voted strongly for Leave might be thought to have been shall we say ‘brave’.
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“They ought to have thought, having plenty of Labour Brexiteers, that it would have been possible I’d have thought to find a Labour Brexiteer to fight in Hartlepool, in the way that it would have been possible to find a Conservative Remainer to fight in London.”
It was clear that, almost five years after the referendum, attitudes towards Britain’s decision to quit the EU were still powerful factors when it came to deciding who people voted for, the expert said.
Prof Travers said: “There’s no doubt that Leave voters feel the validity of the identity that comes with the vote more strongly even than the average Remainer.
“Therefore, for Leave voters this is a more powerful driver, it would appear.
“If Remain voting mattered, lots of people would vote Liberal Democrat, but they don’t.”
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Mike Hill, who is facing a probe into allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies.
The poll, based of 517 interviews carried out between April 23 and 29, puts Mrs Mortimer on 50 percent, Dr Williams on 33 percent, independents Thelma Walker and Sam Lee on six percent each, the Greens on three percent and the Liberal Democrats and the Reform Party on one percent each.
Speaking today, Sir Keir attempted to put a brave face on the situation.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hope we won’t lose Hartlepool.
“We are fighting for every vote there. I know that every vote has to be earned.
“I said on the day that I was elected (Labour leader) that it was a mountain to climb. It is, we are climbing it and I’ve got a burning desire to build a better future for our country.
“I don’t think anybody realistically thought that it was possible to turn the Labour Party round from the worst general election result since 1935 to a position to win the next general election within a period of one year.”
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