SIR Keir Starmer has come under fire from all sides after Labour suffered a crushing defeat in the Hartlepool by-election.

In a stunning result, the Conservatives took the seat – which had been Labour-held since it was formed in 1974 – with a majority of 6940.

Boris Johnson hailed the outcome as “very encouraging” as the Conservatives appeared poised to make further gains in council elections across England.

Starmer has said he will do “whatever is necessary” to rebuild trust in the party.

Allies of the Labour leader acknowledged that it was an “absolutely shattering” blow as another pillar in the party’s once impregnable “red wall” crumbled. They insisted however that Starmer would not be deflected from the course he had set out when he succeeded Jeremy Corbyn a little more than a year ago.

However, there were calls from both the left and the right of the party for an urgent change of direction if they were to stand any chance of regaining power at the next general election.

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On the left, former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it was not possible to blame Corbyn for the setback and said Starmer needed to “think again” about his strategy.

She told BBC Radio 5: “First of all, we’ve got to unify the party.

“This idea that it’s helpful to have some sort of wall with your own party members, that’s not working for us.

“I think we should restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I think that would be a unifying measure.

“But we’ve also got to build on the 2017 manifesto and put together the policies that will appeal to the people in Hartlepool and in Hackney.”

She added: “It would appear that the strategy that we’ve been pursuing, which is a move to the right, hasn’t worked.”

Corbyn said the results showed a loss of hope.

“We must offer a bolder vision to transform people’s lives and give them the confidence to strive for a more equal world,” he said.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the party had gone into the by-election “almost policy-less” and called for a return to a “real grassroots campaign”.

“We must never again send our candidates into an election campaign almost naked, without a policy programme, without a clear view on what sort of society you want to create,” he told the BBC.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the loss was “staggering and worrying” and was clear evidence that the strategy of the last year had not worked.

“Disconnection from our heartland communities will only deepen unless they can look at Labour and see a party with clear, bold policies that understands and speaks for them,” he said.

But there was criticism too from the right, including the Blairite former cabinet minister Lord Adonis.

He told the BBC: “The verdict of the people is the verdict of the people. The golden rule of politics is that you can’t avoid the verdict of the people.

“Clearly the public isn’t persuaded that Labour has either the leadership or the policies or the critique or the energy and the dynamism in terms of its view and we all need to consider that.”

The warning came as early results in council contests appeared to show voters deserting Labour, with the Tories taking Dudley, Redditch and Nuneaton and Bedworth councils in the Midlands, along with Harlow in Essex and Northumberland.

With results in from 63 out of 143 councils at the time of writing, the Conservatives gained a total of 157 seats while Labour had lost 165.

In Hartlepool, the Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer gained 15,529 votes – more than half the total cast – with Labour’s Dr Paul Williams trailing on 8589. In her victory speech, Mortimer said the result – overturning a Labour majority of more than 3500 at the 2019 General Election – was “truly historic”.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said the Hartlepool result was “absolutely shattering” but insisted there is no going back on the strategy set out by Starmer.

“I’m very comfortable that we now have a leader that the country could see as an alternative prime minister – the problem is the Labour Party itself,” he told the BBC.

“What this shows is that, although we have started to change since the cataclysm of the last general election, that change has clearly not gone far enough in order to win back the trust of the voters.”