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‘It was a low point’: Starmer considered quitting after 2021 local elections and Hartlepool loss

todayMay 1, 2024 3

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‘It was a low point’: Starmer considered quitting after 2021 local elections and Hartlepool loss

Sir Keir Starmer has admitted he considered quitting as Labour leader after the party lost both the Hartlepool by-election and council seats in 2021.

Speaking to Sky News political editor Beth Rigby ahead of tomorrow’s contests, Sir Keir called it “a low point”, with his party recording a net loss of eight councils, as well as the North East constituency – which had been held by Labour since the 1970s, but went to the Conservatives on the night.

“I did [consider quitting] because I didn’t feel that I should be bigger than the party and that if I couldn’t bring about the change, perhaps there should be a change,” he said.

“But actually, in the end, I reflected on it, talked to very many people and doubled down and determined, no, it is the change in the Labour Party we need.”

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Sir Keir said he felt “vindicated” by his decision to stay on “because we are now a changed party, nobody argues with that”.

He added: “And the biggest change is we are now a party that confidently and proudly says country first, party second. That is a changed Labour Party.”

Voters will be heading to the polls on Thursday for a range of local council and mayoral elections, as well as a by-election in Blackpool South following the resignation of its Tory MP Scott Benton.

But reflecting on the losses his party suffered the last time the seats were up for grabs, the Labour leader told Beth Rigby: “Oh yes, it was the low point and it really hit me because my job was to turn around the Labour Party and take us from defeat to success.

“Losing hurts and it should hurt in politics, because this isn’t about me, it is about whether the Labour Party can come back into government and serve working people. So yes, it was a very, very low moment.”

 Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks, with an inflatable figure depicting him in the background, at Jacksons Wharf Marina in Hartlepool following local elections

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The Conservatives celebrated their win in Hartlepool with an inflatable version of Boris Johnson. Pic: Reuters

However, Sir Keir said the experience – which came around a year after he took over the party and while Boris Johnson was enjoying a surge in popularity in so-called Red Wall seats – led him to “double down and turbocharge the change that we needed”.

“So, in that respect, retrospectively, it was a good thing because it forced that onward pace, but I am not going to pretend it wasn’t a really hard time.”

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Thursday’s vote is predicted to be a different story for Labour, which has come out of the shadows of their worst-ever loss in the 2019 general election and when they are soaring ahead of the Conservatives in the polls.

But Sir Keir would not put a target on the number of council seats or mayoralties he hoped to win by the end of the counts, saying instead he just wanted his party to “show progress”.

“We have to show that people have the confidence and the trust to vote for this changed Labour Party so we do need to show that progress,” he said.

“The polls don’t predict the future, the polls don’t change the country, but I’ll be looking for that progress because it is really important in the locals and the mayoral elections, but also because of the story it tells for the change we need at the general election.”

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Meanwhile, the Conservatives were playing down their prospects ahead of Thursday’s vote, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt saying he expected it to be a “difficult day” for his party.

Speaking to The Politics Hub With Sophy Ridge, he said: “We are very realistic. We have been in power a long time and a government in office can often get punished in the local elections.

“It happened to Tony Blair in 2001 and 2005, and we are expecting it to be a difficult day tomorrow.”

Jeremy Hunt

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Mr Hunt appeared to be managing expectations when he spoke to Sky News

Mr Hunt added: “Tony Blair lost… councillors and David Cameron lost hundreds of councillors in the run up to the 2015 election, so we are expecting to see significant losses, that often happens in local elections.

“But what we say to people is, look, this may be a moment where you want to express a view about the national picture, but actually the local services you depend on will be decided by how you vote.

“And if you want better public services as independently audited time after time, and lower taxes, then you should vote Conservative tomorrow.”

For all the ways you can follow the local elections live across Sky News, click here.

Written by: Newsroom

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