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Labour braced for tough test

Polls suggest uphill task as party aims to build a ‘credible alternative’

SIR KEIR STARMER has urged voters to back Labour candidates in tomorrow’s elections, promising that they will provide a strong voice for communities across Britain and oppose the sleaze-ridden Tory government.

But as the country votes in the largest set of polls ever held outside of a general election, Sir Keir has been warned that deserting the left has put Labour at risk of heavy defeat.

He conceded that his party was “climbing a mountain” today as polls indicated that it was set to lose the parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool.

The “red wall” town in northern England has returned a Labour MP at every election since the seat was first contested in 1974, including twice under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

“This is the first test and we go into that test fighting for every vote,” Sir Keir said. “But I never thought we would climb the mountain we have to climb in just one year — it is going to take longer than that.”

There are 143 council elections being contested in England tomorrow after a year’s delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Labour sources warned that the party was in danger of losing control of Sunderland and Durham for the first time in half a century.

Labour is also looking to retain power in the Welsh parliamentary elections and gain ground at Holyrood in Scotland. 

Voters in England and Wales will also elect police and crime commissioners, while in England 13 metro mayor positions and the make-up of the London Assembly will also be decided.

Sir Keir said that he would “take full responsibility whatever the outcome.” He joined Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in seeking to play down expectations, with Mr Sarwar saying that the party was simply seeking to build a “credible alternative” across Britain.

Sir Keir campaigned across England today, joining Labour candidates in three key mayoral races beginning with West Yorkshire candidate Tracy Brabin.

He then joined Liam Byrne, who is hoping to win in the West Midlands, before ending the day with Dan Norris, Labour’s West of England candidate.

Throughout the campaign, Labour’s focus has been on creating jobs, tackling crime, protecting the NHS and exposing Tory sleaze.

“Our fantastic Labour candidates have shown in this campaign that Labour’s priorities are the British people’s priorities,” Sir Keir said. 

“If you want strong voices for our towns and cities, our regions and nations, then vote for Labour candidates.

“Vote Labour to put you, your family and your community first. Let’s make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old, whoever you are and wherever you live.”

The party’s Hartlepool candidate Dr Paul Williams is defending a 3,595-vote majority after Mike Hill’s win in 2019. Mr Hill resigned over sexual harassment allegations, which he denies.

Internal Labour data reportedly suggests that the party has shed most of its support in the town since Sir Keir became leader, with only about 40 per cent of voters who backed Labour under Mr Corbyn saying that they will do so again.

Reflecting on Labour’s election hopes, Jewish Voice for Labour said: “[Sir Keir’s] determination to distance himself from Corbyn and ingratiate himself with the UK Establishment has emasculated Labour as a credible opposition to the most reactionary and corrupt Tory government in living memory and killed off enthusiasm across the labour movement.

“The threat is that the current Labour leadership will take a bad result as a reason to go further right, and away from the progressive politics Labour should stand for.”   

Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group has urged Sir Keir to be bolder in holding the government to account over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and warned that his treatment of Mr Corbyn, who was stripped of the whip over his response to the equalities watchdog’s report on anti-semitism, is fueling discontent.

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