The Leave-supporting North East constituency went blue for the first time in its 47-year-old history, as Boris Johnson demolished another brick in Labour’s so-called “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.
The Conservatives, who declared it a “truly historic result”, secured a 6,940 majority winning 15,529 votes to Dr Williams’ 8,589.
A leading Left-winger appeared to take a swipe at some of Sir Keir’s attempts so far to reconnect with voters.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour MP for Kemptown & Peacehaven, tweeted: “Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well… or not?”
His remark seemed to be referring to a strategy document, which was leaked, proposing that the party must make “use of the flag, veterans, dressing smartly” to woo back voters in so-called former “Red Wall” seats running from the North through the Midlands down to Wales.
Sir Keir has sought to strike a more patriotic tone than his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon, who led the campaign to hold the North East constituency which had been Labour for 47 years since its creation, earlier said it looked clear that the party had not “got over the line”.
Early results in council contests in other parts of the country also appeared to show voters deserting Labour, as ballots continue to be counted across England, Scotland and Wales following the Super Thursday polls – the largest test of political opinion outside a general election.
The Tories seized Redditch and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils in the Midlands from Labour, along with Harlow in Essex, while Sir Keir’s party saw heavy losses across North East local authorities.
A Labour source said: “We’ve said all along the North East and the Midlands would be difficult. We also said the places declaring Thursday would be particularly 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.”
However, Sir Keir signal he would not return to the policies adopted by Mr Corbyn which led the party to its disastrous 2019 general election defeat.
The source added: “Labour must now accelerate the programme of change in our party, to win back the trust and faith of working people across Britain.
“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.”