HARTLEPOOL was the high watermark of Johnsonism when exactly four years ago, the Prime Minister then known simply as “Boris” won the by-election. He seemed to be riding as high as the giant inflatable of himself that was bobbing about on the Quayside.

But four years is a long time in politics, and in the early hours of this morning, six Conservative councillors lost their seats as Labour took back control of the council.

It showed how, in four years, the political tide has turned – but there’s another undercurrent running as well. Reform UK stood candidates in all 12 wards, polled sizeably, getting 22 per cent of the vote in some places, pushing the Conservatives hard but only beating them in one ward.

Also, it was only in one ward, if my mathematics are correct, that the Reform vote added to the Conservative vote would have prevented Labour from winning the seat.

How do we read this? For Reform, is it a great result for a party coming out of nowhere, or, in a town where 69.6 per cent voted leave in the Brexit referendum and where party leader Richard Tice is again standing for Parliament, is it a little disappointing that they haven’t established themselves as the true alternative to Labour?

All the academics and experts will be mulling over this, even though only little more than a quarter of voters – 28.22 per cent – turned out.

Despite all the national calculations and extrapolations, the overnight results are a reminder that the politics of local elections are often very local.

In South Tyneside, for instance, on a night of sensational gains elsewhere for Labour, it lost ten seats to Independents and Greens. This looks to have been a reaction to the long-running bin strike and a local feeling of dissatisfaction with the Labour-run council and is completely against the national trend.

Newcastle elected its first two Greens, perhaps reminding us that in many parts of the North East now it is they who are taking the place of the LibDems as the third party, and, at a time of Tory wipe-up it also elected its first Conservative councillor since 1992.

The winning Tory, Doc Annand, is a colourful character campaigning against the menace of high street bollards, and the Tories will be hoping that strength of individual character is enough to win them the mayoralty of the Tees Valley, where Ben Houchen is defending his 72.8 per cent share of the vote from 2021.

In a pretty catastrophic night for the Conservatives elsewhere, Rishi Sunak desperately needs the levelling up pin-up boy to pull through so that at least he has some wreckage to cling to.

Turnout figures in the Tees Valley may be read slightly positively for the Tories. In Middlesbrough, a Labour stronghold, 27 per cent of people voted whereas there were bigger turnouts in Stockton (34 per cent) and Darlington (33 per cent) which have Conservative MPs.

Quite literally, the eyes of the political country are on the count as 80 media people are present, with the result due around 12.30pm.

Mr Houchen may well pull through – Labour is not sounding very optimistic – but another mayoralty which has gone under the radar may prove even more telling for Mr Sunak.

Bookmakers Oddschecker reckons the position of the Labour candidate David Skaith in the York & North Yorkshire mayoralty has strengthened in recent days and he now has 63 per cent chance of winning. Therefore, Mr Sunak’s own true blue Richmond constituency – the home of William Hague and Sir Leon Brittan before him – would have a red mayor. It would be as seismic shock as was Boris Johnson’s victory in Hartlepool four years ago.