The Conservatives have won the Hartlepool by-election – taking a seat that has been under Labour’s control since it was created in the 1970s.
Tory candidate Jill Mortimer’s victory marks a rare gain for a governing party and delivers another brick in Labour’s “red wall” to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
It also serves as a major blow to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in his bid to revive his party’s fortunes following their crushing general election defeat in 2019.
Sir Keir faced immediate calls to “urgently change direction” from Labour’s left wing following the result.
Ms Mortimer defeated Labour candidate Dr Paul Williams by 6,940 votes to deliver a comprehensive win for the Tories
Conservative Party co-chairman Amanda Milling hailed a “historic result”.
Meanwhile, an inquest into the defeat began among Labour ranks, with one party source saying: “Labour has not yet changed nearly enough for voters to place their trust in us.
“We understand that. We are listening. And we will now redouble our efforts.”
Labour former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who is close to ex-party leader Jeremy Corbyn, said the Hartlepool result was a “crushing defeat” for her party.
“Not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result,” she posted on Twitter.
“Labour won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy.”
Former Labour shadow minister Richard Burgon, another ally of Mr Corbyn, said the Hartlepool defeat was “incredibly disappointing”.
He posted on Twitter: “We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning. Labour’s leadership needs to urgently change direction.
“It should start by championing the popular policies in our recent manifestos – backed by a large majority of voters.”
Meanwhile left-wing campaign group Momentum described the by-election result as a “disaster” for Labour.
“In 2017, we won over 50% of the vote in Hartlepool,” they posted on Twitter.
“A transformative socialist message has won in Hartlepool before, and it would have won again.”
Hartlepool had remained under Labour’s control in 2019, even as other bricks in the “red wall” crumbled – with the Brexit Party splitting the Tory vote.
The by-election is one of a number of results expected over the coming days following “Super Thursday”, with voters going to the polls in England, Scotland and Wales.
Sky’s chief political correspondent Jon Craig, who is at the count in Hartlepool, said: “Labour have been badly punished by the voters here, and there will be an almighty inquest in the Labour Party now – with Sir Keir Starmer’s left-wing critics blaming him. No doubt some of the leading left-wing trade union leaders will have plenty to say as well.
“A pretty uncomfortable time is coming up for Sir Keir after this very bad result for Labour.”