Boris Johnson has described the early election results as “very encouraging” after hopes of a Labour revival were dealt a crushing blow when the Conservatives won the Hartlepool by-election.
Speaking to reporters in Coventry, the prime minister said: “I know that the results have been coming in since this morning and there’s clearly a lot more to go, and it’s early days, but it’s a very encouraging set of results so far.
“I think that’s really because we have been focusing, as a government, on our priorities, the people’s priorities, and bouncing back from the pandemic as much as we can and getting through it.”
Johnson said he would say more later on “in Hartlepool”, where the Tory candidate Jill Mortimer took the seat – which had been Labour-held since it was formed in 1974 – with a majority of 6,940.
Sir Keir Starmer has said he takes “full responsibility” for the outcome of Friday’s election.
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.