Labour have held on to Batley and Spen. In a result that will win some breathing space for Keir Starmer’s leadership, Labour won with a majority of 323 votes.
Now, holding on to a seat in a by-election with a substantially reduced majority isn’t a spectacular result for an opposition. But expectations were so low for Labour in this contest, that Starmer will take comfort from this result. If Labour had lost the seat, following their recent defeat in Hartlepool, it would have plunged his leadership into fresh crisis. It would have led to more speculation about a challenge to him.
The Tories will be disappointed not to take the seat. The number of times that the Tories brought the contest up at PMQs this week suggested that they thought that they would take it.
The campaign in Batley and Spen was ugly. George Galloway, who polled more than eight thousand votes, campaigned particularly hard in the Muslim areas of the seat. He attacked Starmer for shifting Labour from the Corbyn-era positions on Israel and Kashmir. There were ugly scenes involving Kim Leadbeater the Labour candidate, who is the sister of Jo Cox—the MP for the seat who was murdered in 2016, and Galloway supporters. In her victory speech, Leadbeater went out of the way to thank the police for their support in the past few weeks.
Starmer now has a chance to try and get his leadership on to the front foot. But if he is going to do that, then he is going to have to be clearer about what his vision is for the country and what Labour stands for under his leadership.
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