Why even a narrow win in Hartlepool would not bode well for Labour

If the party was in a position to win a majority at the next general election, it would be comfortably ahead in the by-election.

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We are fast approaching “Super Thursday” and this morning a new Survation poll from Hartlepool is indicating a 17-point lead for the Conservatives over Labour ahead of this week’s crucial by-election. 

It is generally bad practice to isolate a particular poll, rather than considering them in aggregate, especially given the larger margin of error in this poll and the famous unreliability of constituency polling. Constituency polling is good at identifying trends, such as, in this case, the transfer of Brexit Party votes to the Conservatives, but less good at estimating the scale of that trend, because of the risk of overestimating the most motivated voters and the challenge of determining turnout. 

But it’s worth remembering that even if Labour narrowly holds Hartlepool, this would not be a good result for the party. As Stephen Bush set out in more detail last week, there are different ways of thinking about the seat and Labour’s position. You can view Hartlepool as the Labour-held seat that it is on paper, or treat it as a de facto Conservative seat given how one would expect the 25 per cent vote for the Brexit Party (which has disbanded) to break in favour of the Tories. Yet whatever the starting point, if Labour was in a position to win a majority at the next general election it would be comfortably ahead in Hartlepool.

Labour is, of course, now simply hoping to scrape an against-the-odds win in Hartlepool. If the party narrowly holds the seat, Keir Starmer will breathe a sigh of relief at avoiding the nightmare scenario envisioned by the Survation poll, and the mood music will brighten. But even that scenario would not augur well for Labour’s future. 

[See also: What would be a good result for Labour in the Hartlepool by-election?]

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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