SIR KEIR Starmer has vowed to "carry the can" if Labour performs poorly in today's elections – but will not resign.
Thousands of votes taking place across the country bring his first test at the ballot box since being elected party leader last year.
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Asked by reporters how he was feeling as he left his local polling station in North London this morning, he replied: "Good".
However recent polls put Labour on course to flop in several crucial battlegrounds in the party's former working-class heartlands.
Yesterday Sir Keir said he would shoulder responsibility for the results whatever the outcome.
On a last-ditch campaign stop, he said: "When things go right, the leader takes the plaudits; when they don’t go right, the leader carries the can and takes responsibility.
"That's what I will do with these elections, as I will do in everything that the Labour party does.
"I'm conscious, the whole party is conscious, that this is but a step on the road to the next general election."
He added he had "further work to do, whatever the results", appearing to snuff out speculation he would fall on his sword.
In an interview earlier this week he refused to be drawn on questions about his future.
Labour crashed and burned at the last election in 2019 when Jeremy Corbyn led the party to its worst defeat since 1935.
Boris Johnson mopped up voters in Brexit-backing towns in the North and Midlands – and hopes to chip further away at what's left of the Red Wall.
The Hartlepool by-election is seen as a crucial indicator for how well Sir Keir is doing to win back support in the party's traditional strongholds.
But a poll this week projected the Tories to flip the North East seat blue for the first time in history.
Labour candidates were also braced for defeats in the West Midlands and Tees Valley mayoral elections.
Last night allies of Sir Keir rallied round the leader as disgruntled backbenchers began to circle.
A shadow minister told The Telegraph unimpressed Labour MPs should "cut him some slack" and allow him time to get the party to winning ways.
A Labour insider also told The Sun the parliamentary party will want to avoid a leadership elections at "all costs" in case the grassroots members choose another left-winger.
Sources have suggested Sir Keir could freshen up his top team with a shadow cabinet reshuffle.
The Labour leader has complained that lockdown has hamstrung his ability to communicate with the public, and he is yet to deliver a speech to a live public audience.
Allegations of Tory sleaze have formed Labour's key attack lines heading into the local election campaign.
But a YouGov poll today found that 70 per cent of voters have not been closely following the row over the PM's flat refurbishment.
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