Narrow byelection win eases pressure on Labour leader Keir Starmer

Kim Leadbeater polled around 300 more votes than Tory candidate after tense campaign

Kim Leadbeater of the Labour Party speaks to media after winning the Batley and Spen byelection at Cathedral House in Huddersfield, England on Friday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

Kim Leadbeater of the Labour Party speaks to media after winning the Batley and Spen byelection at Cathedral House in Huddersfield, England on Friday. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

 

Labour has narrowly won the Batley and Spen byelection, holding on to the West Yorkshire seat after a hotly contested campaign.

Labour won 13,296 votes with the Tories recording 12,973, according to official results.

Kim Leadbeater defeated Ryan Stephenson, the Conservative candidate, by 323 votes. George Galloway, representing the Workers Party of Britain, came third with 8,264 votes.

The result, which Labour had feared would not go its way, was declared at about 5.25am on Friday after two “bundle checks” - not a full recount, but where the piles of votes are flicked through for irregularities.

The result eases the pressure on Labour’s leader, Keir Starmer, after a humiliating defeat in Hartlepool in May.

Mr Starmer said he welcomed the “fantastic result for the brilliant and brave” Ms Leadbeater.

Dirty tricks

The tense campaign had been mired in accusations of dirty tricks and intimidatory tactics. It fell five years after the MP Jo Cox, Ms Leadbeater’s older sister, was murdered in the constituency by a far-right terrorist.

Ms Leadbeater (44) said she was “absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and they’ve voted for hope”.

In a short victory speech, she thanked her family and friends saying “without them I could not have got through the last five years, never mind the last five weeks”.

Ms Leadbeater singled out the children of her sister, who was killed while doing the job she had just been elected to do.

“I want to give a special shout out to my niece and nephew who I cannot wait to hug as soon as I see them,” she said.

She also thanked the police, who she said “sadly I have needed more than ever,” during the campaign, which she said had highlighted how much work there was to do in the constituency.

Labour activists said they were pelted with eggs and kicked in the head on the campaign trail at the weekend and West Yorkshire police said an 18-year-old man from Batley was arrested on suspicion of assault in connection with an attack on canvassers.

Slender majority

Labour was defending a slender majority of 3,525 votes in a seat it has held since 1997. The byelection was called after Tracy Brabin, the local MP, was elected as the first mayor of West Yorkshire.

Mr Galloway’s campaign focused on winning the support of disillusioned Labour voters, promising that a vote for him would result in Mr Starmer being ousted as leader.

In a pointed statement released shortly after polls closed at 10pm on Thursday, Ms Leadbeater said the “acts of intimidation and violence by some who have come with the sole aim of sowing division have been deeply upsetting to witness”.

There were 16 candidates on the ballot, including several far-right candidates. - Guardian