Jo Cox’s sister holds Batley and Spen seat for Labour in by-election
Labour has won the Batley and Spen by-election, defying expectations and giving under-pressure Keir Starmer a huge boost.
Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater was announced the winner in the early hours of Friday morning.
Leadbeater is the sister of the seat’s former MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far-right terrorist in the constituency's town of Birstall during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016.
The party clung on with a majority of just 323 votes. Labour took 13,296 votes, and the Conservatives received 12,973 votes.
Controversial left-wing candidate George Galloway, who ran for the Workers Party of Britain, and appeared set to eat into Labour's vote the most significantly picked up 8,264 votes.
“I am absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and voted for hope,” Leadbeater said in her victory speech.
“The campaign has highlighted there is lots to do, but I’m going to crack on with it and I will do my very best to represent the whole of Batley and Spen as their new MP.”
She said the campaign, which has been marred by accusations of intimidation, had been “gruelling” and thanked her family for their support.
“Without them I wouldn’t have got through the last five years, never mind the last five weeks”.
She also thanked the police "who, sadly, I have needed more than ever over the last few weeks”.
The by-election for the Labour-held seat was triggered when the seat’s former MP Tracy Babin resigned in May after being elected to serve as the new mayor of West Yorkshire.
Despite being held by Labour since 1997, with Brabin winning a majority of 3,525 in the 2019 election, the seat was fiercely contested and Labour were the underdogs heading into Thursday's vote.
Polls published in the run-up to Thursday's vote had put Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson in the lead, and a visit to the West Yorkshire seat by Boris Johnson suggested the party was confident of taking it from Labour.
There was also concern among Labour figures that Galloway would help the Tories win by splitting the Labour vote.
However, Labour managed to keep hold of the seat and avoid another bruising defeat after it lost the Hartlepool by-election to the Conservatives in May.
The victory will likely be a source of relief for Starmer, whose leadership looked under threat to challengers from within the party in the face of another by-election defeat.
Starmer tweeted that it was a “fantastic result for the brilliant and brave” Leadbeater.
A Labour Party source said: “Everyone’s being calling this a referendum on Keir’s leadership.
“Well, we’ve won, bucked the trend, held onto this marginal seat and advanced in Tory areas. A fantastic result.”
Brendan Cox, who was married to Leadbeater’s sister, Jo, also welcomed the result.
“We are all incredibly proud of @kimleadbeater today and Jo would have been too,” he tweeted.
“While the result between the two main parties was close the extremists and haters were left trailing.
“The people of Batley and Spen have voted for decency and positivity once again."
A Conservative party source admitted that the race was “always going to be tight”, and noted that it was not usual for governing parties to win by-elections.
“This is not a Labour win. It’s a Labour hold and a very close one at that,” they said.