Labour MPs have warned that Sir Keir Starmer's leadership is "not cutting through" in Hartlepool and called for a "major change in direction", after a poll showed the Conservative Party has a 17-point lead ahead of Thursday’s by-election.
MPs criticised Sir Keir for selecting a Remain supporter, Dr Paul Williams, to stand in a Leave-voting area, and questioned his broader strategy to win back Labour voters after the party was routed in 2019.
A Survation poll, released on Tuesday morning, shows the Conservative Party’s candidate Jill Mortimer polling at 50 per cent of the vote, compared to Dr Williams’s 33 per cent.
Thelma Walker and Sam Lee, two independent candidates, would win 6 per cent of the vote each, with the Greens on 3 per cent, the poll says.
The figures suggest that many voters who switched from Labour to the Brexit Party in the 2019 general election now intend to vote Conservative.
Losing Hartlepool would flip another "Red Wall" seat blue, continuing a collapse in support for Labour in its traditional Northern heartlands. Hartlepool has been a Labour seat since it was created in 1974.
Sir Keir this morning insisted Dr Williams would be a "powerful voice" for the constituency, and rejected suggestions the party was polling poorly because of Brexit.
But one MP told the Telegraph: "I think we probably are in trouble up there.
"Starmer’s candidate, with all his many qualities and his record, is going to be judged by a Leave-voting constituency, which everybody knew was Leave-voting.
"It's for Starmer to decide what kind of shadow cabinet he wants, but arguably the leadership as a whole just isn't cutting through.
"Immediately after the election, there will have to be a mature discussion in the party about the direction in which the leader has been taking us.
"If it turns out that this unrepresentative poll is more or less accurate, and clearly it's going to call for a major change in direction for the party."
Another MP pointed out that Hartlepool was the first electoral test of Sir Keir’s leadership and move away from Labour’s Corbyn years.
"This is a teller of: has he been able to lead the party as he campaigned to, or has he ended up focusing too much on too much sectoral interest in certain areas of the country and forgotten other areas?
"A reshuffle might make a difference."
Both Sir Keir and Boris Johnson have sought to play down expectations ahead of Thursday’s vote. Despite his apparent poll lead, Mr Johnson told reporters he was expecting a "tough night" in Hartlepool.
"I think it’s important for people to understand this is not a seat that Conservatives have ever held," he said.
Sir Keir Starmer said he "never thought" his party "could go from devastating defeat in 2019 and mend all that in a year and a half".
He told Radio 4's Today programme: "I hope we won't lose Hartlepool... but I take full responsibility for the results, just as I take full responsibility for everything that happens in the Labour Party under my leadership."
Critics of Sir Keir accuse him of failing to set out a coherent vision and plans for reform.
“At least with Tony [Blair] there was charisma, there was a feeling of excitement, there was a feeling of a kind of vision on social issues," an MP on the Left of the party told the Telegraph.
"There's kind of that social reforming zeal that we had that was all about understanding that we needed to just pump the money out to the people as quickly as possible, when we got in.
"I don't feel that we've got that zeal behind us right at the moment and that's what also needs to change."