British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won a new seat in parliament on Friday, ousting the Labour Party in the northern English town of Hartlepool with a sweeping victory that tightens his grip on traditional opposition-voting areas.
Conservative Jill Mortimer beat Labour’s candidate by 15,529 votes to 8,589, a once unthinkable victory under a Conservative leader who has proved, so far, to be largely immune to accusations of cronyism and criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
The overwhelming victory in the former industrial port town hands Johnson an even larger majority in parliament and increases pressure on Labour leader Keir Starmer, who faces criticism for not fulfilling a pledge to revive his party’s fortunes after a 2019 election disaster.
“There’s no hiding from the fact this is a shattering result for Labour, absolutely shattering,” Labour lawmaker Steve Reed, a member of Starmer’s top team, told the BBC.
“It tells us that the pace of change in the Labour Party has not been fast enough. We need to quicken it up.”
The Conservatives described it as an historic day.
The by-election, which takes place outside the normal parliamentary election cycle, was triggered by the resignation of a Labour lawmaker in March, and is one of dozens of votes which took place on Thursday.
Labour had held Hartlepool for decades. Election analysts said it was the biggest swing of votes to the governing party at a by-election since World War Two, defying Johnson critics who have taken aim at the prime minister for failing to move quickly enough to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Britain has one of the highest death tolls from COVID-19 in the world.
“It’s quite a spectacular turnaround in a seat that Labour should really have saved and defended,” politics professor Michael Thrasher told Sky News.