Labour’s crushing defeat in the Hartlepool by-election has already sparked recriminations and finger pointing, with the party quickly descending into factional warfare.
Labour left MPs have been reasonably quiet about their discontent with Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership and his attempt to moderate the party until now, however we should expect to see this change from today.
To put Labour’s Hartlepool loss into perspective, it is just the fourth occasion a government has won a seat off the opposition in a by-election since World War II.
Before today it was a constituency always held by Labour since its creation in 1974 and the party managed to hold onto it even in Boris Johnson’s 2019 landslide win – albeit with the help of the Brexit party splitting the right-wing vote.
The party is also expected to lose key mayoral elections in Tees Valley and the West Midlands – the kind of areas it needs to win in the next election if it is to form government.
Starmer has already come under pressure for losing a seat that Jeremy Corbyn managed to win, however there have not yet been calls for him to resign.
The party’s 30-odd left-wing Corbynista MPs, who make up the Socialist Campaign Group, are pushing for the leadership to revert back to the more radical left-wing platform that delivered the party its worst election defeat since 1935.
The likely next step, when this doesn’t happen, will be an escalation of attacks against Starmer by the left in an attempt to bring down his leadership.
Former shadow home secretary, and close Corbyn ally, Diane Abbott said: “Not possible to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this result.
“Labour won the seat twice under his leadership. Keir Starmer must think again about his strategy.”
Starmer’s team are pulling in the other direction, with a Labour source saying “Labour has not changed nearly enough for voters to place their trust in us” and that “Keir has said he will take responsibility for these results”.
“Labour now must accelerate the programme of change in our party, to win back the trust and faith of working people across Britain,” they said.
What this looks like exactly is unclear, however the party may look to present itself as more economically aspirational to try and match the Tories’ “levelling up” agenda.
Tougher stances on things like crime could also be under consideration.
A moderate Labour frontbencher told City A.M. that a cabinet reshuffle was a near certainty to happen very soon.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has not managed to make an impact on the electorate and neither have other Labour MPs in prominent positions like shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.
However, the source added that a reshuffle “alone isn’t going to fix the problem”.
“We have to face up to the degree of the rejection – on policy, on culture and other things,” they said.
“We’ve got a new shadow cabinet and a new leader but it hasn’t helped – a new leader on its own isn’t enough. We need to show new leadership every single day and we need to be making that case every day.”
Labour Brighton and Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, on the party’s left, feels differently.
Early this morning, he tweeted: “Good to see valueless flag waving and suit wearing working so well … or not?”
Starmer escaped having to fight a civil war against the left when elected leader last year as Covid-19 dominated headlines and people’s priorities.
It also helped that he shot out to polling leads last year and looked like a breath of fresh air.
However, with the the virus under control and Labour getting hammered by the electorate it looks like SW1 has resumed to politics as usual.