Labour cries foul over union poll showing Tories on track to take Hartlepool

Aubrey Allegretti
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: WPA/Getty</span>
Photograph: WPA/Getty

Anger is mounting at the top of the Labour party over a trade union-commissioned poll on the party’s fortunes in the 6 May Hartlepool byelection that has sparked accusations of “betrayal”.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) asked Survation to poll residents in the north-eastern town, with the result showing the Conservatives on course to take the seat from Labour next month by 49% to 42%. The union’s general secretary, Dave Ward, referred to it when criticising Keir Starmer’s leadership of Labour and accused him of being “far too timid”.

Released to the Times just after the anniversary of Starmer becoming Labour leader, the intervention has prompted figures in the party to leap to his defence. “It’s mind-boggling that one of the trade unions represented on Labour’s NEC would work hand in hand with the Murdoch press to undermine the Labour party during a crucial set of elections,” a senior Labour source said.

They agreed Labour had “a real struggle on our hands in Hartlepool” but attacked what they called “a betrayal of all the Labour activists working so hard”, and added: “Unfortunately, there are some factional figures on the hard left who seem intent on wrecking the party, even if that means cosying up to the Conservatives.”

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said the poll was “helping Boris Johnson and the Conservatives” in an “extremely difficult” byelection. He said: “Those of us who actually are talking to the voters, rather than sitting in our comfortable offices, are finding people are coming back to us, but that recovery is not helped by this kind of damaging sniping.”

Another Labour insider said some MPs were “frothing at the mouth” and that many of the party’s council candidates standing in “red wall” seats on 6 May were worried the Conservatives would “weaponise the polling data [to help] hammer home the message” that Starmer is not doing enough to win working-class voters.

A CWU spokesperson dismissed the anger as a “piss-take from the Labour right” and picked up on criticism levelled by Bradshaw that the poll sample size was 502 people, by saying some MPs were happy to point to national polls supporting Starmer that spoke to only about 1,000 people – one or two per constituency.

Related: In Hartlepool and beyond, Labour must reconnect with working-class voters to win | Jon Trickett

They said critics of the union were in “complete denial”, saying: “Our position is that we are heading over a cliff here.” They also pointed to other findings in the poll, including that a large majority of those surveyed supported investing more in public services, renationalising Royal Mail and providing free broadband, calling it evidence of “support for a progressive agenda”.

The row encapsulates how pivotal the Hartlepool byelection will be for Starmer. While he saw polling highs after his election to the leadership last April, he has struggled as Johnson and the government reclaimed support following the UK’s successful vaccine programme.

A byelection win for the Conservatives in Hartlepool would be historic, severing ties with Labour for the first time in nearly 60 years and would bolster Starmer’s critics.