LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 06, 2021: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds walk to a polling station at Methodist Central Hall in London to cast their votes in the local elections, on 06 May, 2021 in London, England.
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LONDON — Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has convincingly won a byelection in the northern English town of Hartlepool, cementing its strong footing across working class areas of the country that once belonged to the rival Labour party.
Jill Mortimer beat Labour’s Paul Williams by nearly 7,000 votes, according to the count announced on Friday morning, and became the first Conservative to win the seat since the constituency was formed in 1974.
By-elections happen in Britain when a seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant in between general elections.
The win will be seen as a barometer for the current mood in the country as it slowly reopens after strict coronavirus lockdown measures. Johnson was heavily criticized for the initial response to the pandemic, and with over 127,000 reported fatalities, Britain has one of the worst death rates in Europe and the world.
But Johnson has also been at the forefront of a successful vaccination campaign, with over 50% of the country’s population now having received at least one dose of a vaccine. Political pundits have noted that the prime minister might be enjoying a “vaccine bounce,” but the result in Hartlepool does underline the trend seen at the last general election in 2019.
The result will be a huge blow to Labour and its new moderate leader Keir Starmer. Other elections this week for local council seats also look to be a disappointment for the opposition party.
Steve Reed, a shadow communities secretary for Labour, told BBC Radio on Friday: “There’s no hiding from the fact this is a shattering result for Labour.”