Oh dear. Labour's loss of Hartlepool on a 16 point swing to the Tories has not gone down well with Keir Starmer's most vocal critics. Lloyd Russell-Moyle was first out of the blocks this morning, tweeting shortly after midnight that 'Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well... or not?' Fellow members of the Socialist Campaign Group have piled in too, with Corbyn-era frontbenchers quick to offer their expert analysis as to why Labour lost a seat they had held since its creation.
Onetime shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon declared 'We are going backwards in areas we need to be winning. Labour's leadership needs to urgently change direction' while his former colleague Diane Abbott pronounced it a 'crushing defeat for Labour in Hartlepool' and that 'Starmer must think again about his strategy' as it is 'not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result.'
Ex Corbyn adviser Steve Howell remarked that 'Jeremy Corbyn won four out of the four by-elections held in his first year as leader' and 'still the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] tried to oust him' – conveniently ignoring the 2017 Copeland defeat which (like Hartlepool) was one of the few times a postwar governing party gained a by-election seat.
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) May 7, 2021
Steve Reed comes across as incredibly weak on #r4today - but that’s not his fault, this is a horrendous, historic result.Where is Keir Starmer? This is the guy that wants to take responsibility?
— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) May 7, 2021
"If you're in a hole, stop digging", is generally sensible advice. The idea that Labour should carry on the same path, just pick up speed is just nonsense.We need a change of strategy.
The ever online Owen Jones has weighed in too with his invaluable advice that 'Labour as things stand is offering no vision whatsoever' and that the 'Labour Right have no vision, no ideas, no popular policies. Their cupboard is completely bare.' Novara Media sage Aaron Bastani added 'The Labour leader left has no readers while fanatics on the party's right look to blow it all up' and telling MPs to 'Wake up! You are going to be reduced to a rump at the next GE if you carry on.'
Criticisms of Labour's top team are not merely confined to the usual suspects on the left. Former New Labour minister Andew Adonis has written in The Times today that Starmer – who he backed for leader last year – is not up to the role and should resign, explaining that while he hoped the latter 'might have sufficient leadership capacity and modernising social democratic vision to reshape Labour' he has turned out 'to be a transitional figure – a nice man and a good human rights lawyer, but without political skills or antennae at the highest level.'
Starmer's frontbenchers have been suitably contrite thus far on the airwaves, with communities spokesman Steve Reed doing the breakfast rounds this morning to acknowledge the party's problems 'run very, very deep' but that 'it was always going to take more than a year given the breakdown in trust' between Labour and 'very many people right across this people.' Sky's Jon Craig created arguably the defining moment of last night's coverage when he grilled Labour's shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon who claimed 'We are the party of working people' to which Craig replied 'it appears you are not' with a nod to the results.
— News Addict (@addicted2newz) May 7, 2021
Labour: "We are the party of working people...""Errr, can I stop you there. It appears you are not the party of working people." 🤭 pic.twitter.com/9UPqMNuCFK
John McDonnell and Peter Mandelson meanwhile both popped up on Radio 4's Today programme to represent their respective left and right factions. The duo, whose Sisyphean struggles to control their party stretch back decades, gave their perspectives as to the reasons for the defeat. McDonnell claimed the defeated candidate Paul Williams was sent 'almost naked' into the election owing to a policy vaccuum 'in any election you need to have an argument... you have to put up an argument... the Labour Party went into this election campaign... it was like having an argument without putting an argument.'
Mandelson, the former Hartlepool MP between 1992 and 2004, was more personal, declaring his 'mild fury' at the result for which the 'two Cs of Covid and Corbyn' were to blame. He quoted a conversation on the doorstep:
“One person said to me ‘Sort yourselves out, sort yourselves out. You picked the wrong brother and you ended up with Corbyn so that’s goodbye to you. When you’ve sorted yourselves out, we’ll look at you again’.
And it appears the party grandee's mood had not improved this afternoon when he appeared on the BBC’s election programme. Asked what he thought of criticisms by the former North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock, who argued Labour’s message in Hartlepool wasn’t ‘radical enough’, a livid Mandelson hit back and asked:
“Why did she lose her seat then herself in 2019? She stood on a programme of radical policies, all the things that she believes in and wanted to put forward and she lost – in Durham. Why? If it was so good, if it was so brilliant, if it was so appealing, why did she lose?
In private, Labour politicians are even more graphic about the problems they face. Lobby hacks are today quoting party sources from various factions as saying 'it’s an utter shitshow' that the party needs to 'burn down the shadow cabinet' and that 'just because we have stopped pissing in the bath doesn’t mean people want to jump in with us straight away.'
For all Starmer's pleas that there is 'no need for civil war' Steerpike suspects he might get one anyway.