Batley backs its 'local girl': Kim Leadbeater wins after voters avoid real politicians

Batley and Spen residents welcome Labour's by-election victory

To the outside world it may have been a shock win for Labour in Batley, West Yorkshire, but it was no surprise for those on the ground.

The Batley and Spen by-election was full of dirty tricks and the Conservatives were confident of gaining yet another so-called red wall seat from Labour.

But this was no ordinary seat. Their former MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a far-right extremist near the town square in Birstall five years ago.

Cox's sister Kim Leadbeater, a fitness instructor, decided to step into the political fray when the seat was recently vacated by her colleague Tracy Brabin after her appointment as mayor of West Yorkshire.

After a highly strung contest, Labour won a narrow victory by a mere 323 votes when the count was called on Friday.

The Conservatives finished second followed by George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain.

Using the Palestinian crisis, Mr Galloway had hoped to lure traditional Labour voters and ultimately oust Sir Keir Starmer as Labour leader, whose position is precarious after recent losses suffered by his party.

But on Friday the people spoke and backed their “local girl”.

On entering Batley on Friday, visitors were still greeted by a large poster featuring Mr Galloway’s face.

Every lamp post was emblazoned with his campaign literature but his battle bus was gone.

This small industrial town may have been in the national spotlight but on Friday the residents were breathing a sigh of relief that the circus was finally leaving town.

“I’m not interested in politics, quite frankly. We’re all sick of the attention,” a local butcher said. “This isn’t what we’re about.”

His comments were echoed throughout Batley with many people apparently nonchalant about the result, saying they “didn’t really care” and were more angered that their town was invaded by those seeking to use it as a political platform.

“I don’t get involved in politics,” one pensioner said. “It’s been a farce these past few weeks.”

But for those in neighbouring Birstall, the scene of Cox’s murder, it was a poignant victory for Ms Leadbeater.

For them, the result did matter and they were revelling in the success of their “girl from down the road”.

“Kim is a local girl, she grew up here, she knows us and we know her,” said carer Tracy Shaw.

“The community was devastated over what happened to Jo. Now we’ve had all these outsiders coming into our town for their own ends, wanting us to elect them. Kim will do what’s right by us. It’s the right result.”

Staff in the coffee shop that overlooks the site of the tragedy said Mr Galloway visited the area on Thursday and was chatting to them all.

“He was polite but he doesn’t know the area,” one staff member said.

“We don’t get into politics. Kim may have got the sympathy vote because of her sister but she actually knows this area and knows what the craic is.

“She’s our local girl and the people have voted for someone who may actually get things done. I can’t imagine Galloway getting involved with local issues or potholes.”

Vicky White, a mother of two, said she thought the Conservatives had a chance.

“I’ll be honest, I thought the Conservatives had a chance of winning,” she said.

“People have been a bit fed up with Labour. Everyone likes Kim, but I’m not sure she’s really a politician. As for Galloway, he just came here to cause trouble and everyone will be glad to see the back of him.”

It was thought Mr Galloway would split the vote, disadvantaging the Labour Party. In the end, Labour took 13,296 votes, the Conservatives 12,973 while Mr Galloway was third with 8,264.

Both leading parties may now be wondering if those 8,000 votes would have made a difference.

Fewer than half of eligible voters in the constituency, just over 37,000 people, voted on Thursday for the 16 candidates, including a number of far-right candidates.

In the 2019 general election more than 66 per cent of the constituency voted.

Nationally it was considered a hot seat and the area was visited by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, twice, and Mr Starmer.

But on the streets of Batley, people were not fazed.

“They all came here trying to stir things up,” Mohammed Khan said.

“People aren’t bothered. We have to live here and thankfully today the circus will be gone and we can all just get back to normal.”

As life returns to normal in Batley the only trace of the past few weeks of eggs being thrown, shouting and posters being ripped down were the fliers on the lampposts which, on Friday morning, street cleaners were beginning to remove.

Updated: July 2nd 2021, 12:46 PM