Batley and Spen by-election: Keir Starmer can breathe a sigh of relief - for now

The Labour leader was facing a leadership challenge if his party had lost in Batley and Spen

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Kim Leadbeater celebrate victory outside the campaign centre in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire on July 2, 2021 (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Kim Leadbeater celebrate victory outside the campaign centre in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire on July 2, 2021 (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

So Labour has held Batley and Spen, despite the last pre-election poll giving the Tories a lead of six percentage points.

How did Labour defy the odds?

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Did voters react negatively to the divisive tactics of George Galloway, whose goal was to split the left? Did the withdrawal of the Green Party candidate over offensive tweets give Labour a boost? Did the Matt Hancock scandal dent the Tories' share?

These all may have played a part, but the decisive factor appears to have been the strength and appeal of Labour’s candidate.

Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, is someone with real integrity, who remained steadfast in her determination, despite an increasingly toxic campaign against her.

Leadbeater lives in the constituency of Batley and Spen where she and Jo grew up and which Jo represented until her death.

A former lecturer in physical activity and wellbeing, this resilience has come in handy in a gruelling doorstep campaign.

The final week of campaigning appears to have swung it in her favour.

Just. She won by 323 votes, making Batley and Spen the 10th most marginal seat in the UK.

For now, the pressure has eased on Labour leader Keir Starmer. The knives in the shadow cabinet were out, but he can breathe a little easier today.

Perhaps the bigger story here is that grassroots politics won out over hate-stirring opportunists. That's got to be good for British politics.

Do you agree? Let us know what you think about this story and be part of the debate in our comments section below