Labour has lost a council seat in Middlesbrough to the Conservatives, leading to fresh in-fighting within the party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The result in the traditionally Labour region saw an eight per cent swing to the Tories in the Coulby Newham seat – leaving Labour’s candidate, Annalise Higgins, with 35 per cent of the vote share compared with Jacob Young from the Conservatives with 38 per cent.
Tom Blenkinsop, the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland and a prominent critic of the party’s leadership, took aim at Mr Corbyn, suggesting the party lost in its stronghold, which voted for Brexit, due to the leader’s name being mentioned on the doorstep.
While single council seats are unlikely to reflect a national trend, the Labour leader has previously pointed to such by-elections as evidence of the party making gains in regions of Britain – despite divisions within the party.
It comes as the party prepares to contest seats across England, Scotland and Wales at the local elections on 4 May. Polling experts are predicting Labour could endure a difficult night, with the possibility of losing dozens of seats.
A Labour source, however, told The Independent that the party has gained more seats in council by-elections this year than it has lost, including gaining a seat from the Conservatives and another from the Ukip.
“The Middlesbrough by-election was very close – only 33 votes separated Labour and the Conservatives – and the turnout was extremely low making it difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions,” they added.
“However, voters don’t like divided parties, public attacks and in-fighting. Unity is essential to delivering effective opposition.”
But Mr Blenkinsop added: "We lost due to the leader's name being mentioned on the doorstep as the reason why residents were not voting Labour.
"And I am certain this is not just the case here but across boroughs and constituencies the length and breadth of Great Britain." He said since at least 1999 the ward has elected either three Labour councillors or two and an Independent.