The former Home Secretary also accuses Labour of being too slow to respond to the North’s changing political priorities, failing to offer insufficient hope to voters and not getting its message across effectively.
“Profound seismic shifts in the political landscape require something more than a whinge,” writes Lord Blunkett in The Yorkshire Post.
His hard-hitting intervention comes after Tory candidate Jill Mortimer, a Thirsk farmer, captured Hartlepool which had been a Labour ‘red wall’ seat for decades.
Her victory was just the fourth occasion, in 60 years, that the main party of government has captured a seat in a Westminster by-election from the opposition.
This prompted Boris Johnson to travel to Hartlepool where the jubilant Prime Minister said he wanted to complete the Covid vaccine rollout and continue “the process of uniting and levelling up” the country..
But the unprecedented 16 per cent swing to the Tories prompted bitter recriminations within Labour’s ranks over leadership, strategy and policy as the party suffered a number of shock setbacks in local elections.
These saw the party lose overall control of Sheffield City Council – coincidentally Lord Blunkett’s home city – while Bob Johnson, who became council leader just months ago, was defeated in his Hillsborough seat.
After hours of silence, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer last night accepted responsibility for the Hartlepool defeat and party’s record since its electoral ‘red wall’ across the North and Midlands collapsed in the 2019 election.
“I take full responsibility for the results – and I will take full responsibility for fixing this,” said Sir Keir who had made several campaign visits to the constituency. “We have changed as a party but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country.”
He was speaking shortly before Khalid Mahmood quit as a shadow minister and claimed that Labour had been captured by “a London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of brigades of woke social media warriors”.
Yet, while Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, a close ally of Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, said Labour was “going backwards in areas we need to be winning” and that the current leadership needs to “urgently change direction”, Labour peer and election strategist Lord Mandelson demanded more centrist approach.
A former Hartlepool MP, Lord Mandelson told Sir Keir to “leave behind the fantasy politics of Jeremy Corbyn and rejoin the real world of the 21st century”.
And this is now echoed by Lord Blunkett who challenges Sir Keir to learn lessons from Labour’s landslide wins under Tony Blair.
“Those seats that Labour failed to win in the south of England until the landslides of 1997 and 2001 were made up of men and women with the same general outlook and small “c” conservatism as their counterparts in the industrial north,” he writes.
“Add to this that there has been a failure to recognise, by the liberal left, that less affluent socio-economic groups have been much more traditionally conservative than is currently acknowledged and which is why Labour were out of power for large parts of the 20th century.”
PM: I will level up now
BORIS Johnson says he will focus on the Government’s levelling up agenda after Tory triumph in Hartlepool vindicated Brexit.
“I think what happened in 2019 was that people mandated us to get Brexit done, and to begin the process of uniting and levelling up,” he said. “And I think what people want us to do now is to get on with delivering on everything else.”
The Prime Minister said his intention was for the “genius and talent and enthusiasm and flair and imagination” that exists across Britain to be distributed more evenly”.
He added: “That’s the basic idea. And that’s what we’re trying to change.”
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