The Leave-supporting North East constituency went blue for the first time in its 47-year-old history, as Boris Johnson demolished another brick in Labour’s so-called “red wall”.
Voters in the town backed Tory candidate Jill Mortimer to be their next MP over Labour’s Dr Paul Williams – an avid Remainer and second-referendum campaigner during his time as MP for Stockton South between 2017-19 – in a rare by-election victory for a party in power for more than a decade.
The Conservative, who declared it a “truly historic result”, secured a 6,940 majority winning 15,529 votes to Dr Williams’ 8,589.
The defeat was signalled by senior figures hours before the official announcement, with shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon telling Sky News shortly before 3am his party was “not close to winning this”.
The result will be a setback for Sir Keir, who took over as Opposition leader from Jeremy Corbyn four months after the party’s disastrous 2019 general election performance with the promise of turning it back into a winning force.
It is likely to mean questions over the strategy he has pushed as leader over the past year, with traditional Labour voters seemingly continuing to turn away from the party in the wake of Brexit.
Early results in council contests after the Super Thursday elections appeared to show voters deserting Labour, with the Tories seizing Redditch and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils in the Midlands, along with Harlow in Essex, while Sir Keir’s party saw heavy losses across North East local authorities.
A Labour source said Sir Keir would “take responsibility for these results” and for “fixing” the party’s electoral woes.
In an early sign of the discontent on the Labour left, MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle appeared to mock the party’s attempts to change its image.
As Tory sources talked up chances of a shock Hartlepool victory before the result was officially announced, Mr Russell-Moyle tweeted: “Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well… or not?”