Sir Keir Starmer and his Labour party suffered a huge blow after the Conservative Party won comfortably in the Hartlepool by-election.

It is the first time the North East constituency went blue in 47 years since it was created as Boris Johnson continued his demolition of Labour’s “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.

Hartlepool was held by Labour with a majority of 3,595 in 2019, even as other bricks in the red wall crumbled – in part due to the Brexit Party splitting the Tory vote.

Chester and District Standard: Jill Mortimer won a majority of 6,940 over Labour’s Dr Paul Williams (Owen Humphreys/PA)Jill Mortimer won a majority of 6,940 over Labour’s Dr Paul Williams (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Both Mr Johnson and Sir Keir made three visits during the campaign in a sign of the importance the by-election represented to their parties.

A Labour source said: “We’ve said all along the North East and the Midlands would be difficult.

“But the message from voters is clear and we have heard it – 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.

“People don’t want to hear excuses. Keir has said he will take responsibility for these results – and he will take responsibility for fixing it and changing the Labour Party for the better.”

Alex Norris, shadow public health minister, denied that the loss was Sir Keir’s responsibility and pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as a factor in the lack of progress made in the polls under his leadership.

“In the entire period Keir has been leader we’ve been in a global pandemic and he hasn’t been able to give a public appearance yet,” he told Sky News.

“So actually, I think he has done a great job in connecting the way he has, and we’ve got more to do.”

Chester and District Standard: An inflatable Boris was erected by a local business group. (PA)An inflatable Boris was erected by a local business group. (PA)

Meanwhile, members of Hartlepool’s business community erected a 30-foot inflatable model of Boris Johnson overnight.

The 20-strong group, known as the Hartlepool Wombles, said the 4am stunt was not a political statement but rather heralded a historic change in the town.

The inflatable Prime Minister, with thumbs aloft, cost around £2,000 and was one of several blow-up characters they have bought.

One of the group, who asked not to be named, said: “We are doing this to mark a historic change in Hartlepool.

“I’m not particularly political, in fact I didn’t even vote.

“I think this shows Hartlepool in a positive light and the town has always had a quirky personality.”