LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party is fighting "very hard" for every vote in the northern English town of Hartlepool, leader Keir Starmer said on Tuesday, taking aim at an election that will be a critical test for his leadership.
The election on Thursday of a new lawmaker for Hartlepool, which has struggled since its steel and shipbuilding industries went into decline in the 1960s-70s, is becoming a key test for Starmer, who is keen to prove he can reinvigorate the fortunes of the Labour Party after a 2019 election failure.
But Hartlepool is also in the sights of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party, hoping a trend of winning over traditional Labour voters in northern and central English towns in 2019 will extend to this seat too.
Both parties have tried to manage expectations, saying the coronavirus pandemic has made campaigning and polling difficult, but a poll by Survation for ITV's Good Morning Britain put the Conservatives on a 17-point lead to take a constituency that has always voted Labour since its creation in 1974.
"We're fighting very hard in Hartlepool, it is very important to us, it's tough, we've got to earn every vote," Starmer told BBC television, adding that during his three visits he found most voters were worried about jobs in the future.
"I want Hartlepool to have a powerful Labour voice to stick up for Hartlepool and to speak for Hartlepool."
Voters turn out in Hartlepool on Thursday, which will also see local elections across England, Wales and Scotland, where the Scottish National Party hope to see a majority for a push for a second independence referendum after one in 2014 when Scots voted by 55% to 45% to stay in the United Kingdom.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)