Labour has managed to cling on to Batley and Spen after a difficult by-election campaign, albeit with a significantly reduced majority of just 323.
Kim Leadbeater the new MP for the constituency, said that if she can be “half the MP” her sister Jo Cox was, she’ll be “very proud”.
‘A win is a win’
Speaking to BBC Breakfast after the result, Kim Leadbeater said: “The focus of the campaign was very much listening to local people and speaking to local people. And sometimes national issues came up, but I have to be honest, the vast majority of conversations were about very local issues.
“People want to feel like they’ve got an MP that cares about this community. As someone who has lived here their whole life and has lived across various different places within the constituency, that’s where the connection came from during the campaign, the fact that I was local.
“National stuff plays a part, but for me this really was about the local issues that people care about.”
And speaking to Sky News, she said: “Sadly we had some pretty ugly scenes last weekend during the campaign. I was subjected to personal abuse and intimidation, and sadly people who were helping me with the campaign got similar - I think that actually led to someone being arrested.
“It’s really sad that we had that, because I tried to conduct a really positive campaign full of energy, all about the people of Batley and Spen, so it was very upsetting to see that divisiveness creeping into our politics again.
Asked about the narrow margin of victory, Leadbeater said: “A win is a win, and I’ll take that every day of the week. It was always going to be close, politics is tough at the minute, but I’m really pleased with the win that we’ve had.”
And she insisted that national issues didn’t factor all that much in the campaign, saying: “The vast majority of conversations I’ve had with people have been about local issues.
“I think lots of people have tried to make this about other things that are going on at a national level, but what most people in Batley and Spen wanted was an MP who is local who cares about this area and because I’ve lived here and I’ve lived here all my life I think that resonated with people.
On the appeal of George Galloway, who won more than 20 per cent of the vote, she said: “I think we’ve got communities across Batley and Spen who are sadly a bit disillusioned with politics and with traditional politicians.
“One of the things I want to focus on is how we get people engaged with politics in a positive way, and I think we had people come here with their own agendas and their own egos, who have played into people’s frustrations.
“My job now is to bring those people together around a shared vision for a prosperous and bright future for Batley and Spen.
She added: “If I can be half the MP Jo was I’ll be very happy and very proud of that.”
Not long after the result was announced, Labour leader Keir Starmer Tweeted: “Fantastic result for the brilliant and brave Kim Leadbeater. Kim ran a positive campaign of hope, in the face of division.
He added: “She will be an outstanding Labour MP for Batley and Spen.”
‘An astonishing result’
Shabana Mahmood MP, the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood who worked on the campaign, Tweeted: “What an astonishing result for Kim Leadbeater and the local Labour campaign team! Kim has been a superb candidate, and this win is so richly deserved. It’s been an absolute privilege to campaign with her week in, week out.
And Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Philips, wrote: “The emotional labour done by Kim Leadbeater over the last few weeks is unimaginable. Hope and love can win but it is harder and takes considerably more work than hate which any fool can do. The people of Batley are awesome. Massive love also to Holly Lynch and Shabana Mahmood.”
Former Labour spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell, also congratulated the winner but warned that Labour “cannot be complacent”.
He Tweeted: So pleased for Kim Leadbeater - to have the putrescence that is Galloway stirring against her, vile hatred as she went around the place, the hard left using the campaign to fight Keir Starmer rather than the Tories, Johnson making sure Nissan spin timed to max effect, and she dealt with it all with real grace and and guts. It is a great win for her and for the memory of Jo Cox. Bookies and pundits wrong again but Labour cannot be complacent about the scale of the challenge ahead.”
Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling Tweeted: Commiserations to Ryan Stephenson. We always knew this was going to be a tough fight but Ryan worked hard to fight for change. This was always Lab’s to lose and they have only just managed to hold. Conservatives will continue to work to build back better from the pandemic.”
Speaking to Sky News, she said the recent scandal involving Matt Hancock “was something that came up on the doorstep”.
Conservative MP for neighbouring constituency Colne Valley, Jason McCartney, said: “Congrats Kim, look forward to working with you on behalf of our wonderful part of Yorkshire. Well done too to Ryan Stephenson for running such a positive campaign and getting so close in the end.”
And Kim Leadbeater’s brother-in-law, the widower of Jo Cox, Brendan Cox, took to social media to congratulate the Conservative candidate on the campaign.
He Tweeted: “Elections are bruising and it takes bravery to stand. Thank you to Ryan Stephenson for fighting the campaign on the issues and not pandering to divisions. We may disagree on a lot but he’s a good man and has more to give.”