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Election results: Labour suffers humiliating defeat as Hartlepool elects first female Tory MP

The last time a Conservative was elected in Hartlepool, Cliff Richard was No 1 with “Living Doll”.

Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston, was in cinemas. Winston Churchill was still alive and it would be seven years before England won the World Cup.

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Jill Mortimer has won the historically Labour seat in Hartlepool

It was 1959, the year Margaret Thatcher was first elected to parliament.

In her victory speech here, Jill Mortimer said it was 57 years since Hartlepool last had a Conservative MP.

She also said she was proud to be the town’s first woman MP.

In fact, Mrs Mortimer has completed a hat-trick of Tory women by-election candidates, following the victories of Trudy Harrison in Copeland in 2017 and Caroline Johnson in Sleaford and North Hykeham in 2016.

So Hartlepool was indeed an historic victory for the Tories. And also a personal triumph for Boris Johnson, who visited the constituency three times during the by-election campaign.

As the votes were being counted inside the Mill House Leisure Centre in the town, outside in the cold, cold early morning air some local jokers erected a huge Boris Johnson blow-up doll meant to lampoon the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson poses for a 'selfie' as he meets members of the public while campaigning on behalf of Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool
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Boris Johnson meets the public while campaigning on behalf of Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool

He won’t care, however. It’s Labour who are feeling deflated after this humiliating defeat.

The cheers from Tory supporters were so loud when returning officer Denise McGuckin read out Mrs Mortimer’s vote at the declaration that the precise number was inaudible, though it was over 15,500.

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Sir Keir Starmer avoids questions concerning after Labour’s crushing defeat

Moments later there were gasps when the votes for Labour’s Paul Williams, 8,589, was the last total read out. The winning margin: a comfortable majority of nearly 7,000.

Not only that, Mrs Mortimer polled more than 50% of the vote. Not many MPs achieve that.

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So what went so disastrously wrong for Labour? The Corbynite left – predictably – are on the warpath and demanding a return the policies of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

But that won’t happen. The response to the defeat from Sir Keir Starmer and his Shadow Cabinet allies is that Labour needs to move further away from Corbynism, not go back to it.

However, Sir Keir’s inner circle clearly blundered by picking a Remainer in a constituency where nearly 70% voted Leave in 2016.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria leave after casting their votes at Greenwood Centre polling station, north London, in the local and London Mayoral election. Picture date: Thursday May 6, 2021.
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria leave after casting their votes at a polling station in north London

It was also, with hindsight, a blunder to hold the by-election on the same day as so many other polls in the hope that no-one would notice.

Both decisions backfired spectacularly.

Top Tories, on the other hand, almost can’t believe how well they’ve done, as one senior MP contacted Sky News and declared: “The stunning thing is hat I’ve never known this in my time in politics and I’ve been kicking around as a member of my party for 47 years.

“Normally we wouldn’t be able to hold our safest seats, not win seats we failed to win two years ago. It’s defying all the laws of political gravity.”

In other words, Hartlepool has turned politics upside down. Just like Cliff Richard shook up the pop music world all those years ago.

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