Labour MP will step down if elected mayor - why a win for Tracy Brabin could spell disaster for Keir Starmer

Labour’s candidate for West Yorkshire mayor currently serves as an MP, but she will have to step down if elected on 6 May

Labour MP will step down if elected mayor - why a win for Tracy Brabin could spell disaster for Keir Starmer (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Labour’s candidate for West Yorkshire mayor, Tracy Brabin has confirmed that she will forfeit her role as an MP to take on the job if she is elected next month.

Voters in West Yorkshire will elect the region’s first mayor on 6 May, with Labour expected to secure the most votes.

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But a win for Labour in the West Yorkshire mayoral election could spell problems down the road, particularly for the party leader, as it would prompt another by-election in a ‘red-wall’ seat.

Who is Tracy Brabin?

Brabin is currently the MP for Batley & Spen, after retaining the seat with a significantly reduced majority in 2019.

Brabin was elected in a by-election following the murder of Jo Cox in 2016, and has succesfully defended the seat twice since.

Now she is standing to be Labour’s candidate for mayor, after facing stiff competition in the selection process which took place last year.

Although the race might end up tighter than originally expected, based on national polling and the assumption of a ‘vaccine bounce’ for the governing party, Brabin is still considered the most likely winner.

But unlike her Labour colleague Dan Jarvis, who serves in a dual-role as MP for Barnsley Central and as South Yorkshire’s mayor, Brabin will be forced to step down as Batley & Spen’s MP to take on the new role, should she be elected.

Why would Tracy Brabin have to stop being an MP?

This is a result of the differences in devolution deals struck between central government and the neighbouring regions, with the West Yorkshire mayoral role including Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) powers, unlike South Yorkshire’s.

Legally, a sitting MP can’t serve as either a PCC, or a mayor with PCC powers.

This is why Andy Burnham stepped down as MP for Leigh to become the mayor of Greater Manchester, a role which also includes PCC powers.

Confirming this on social media, Brabin Tweeted: “If elected, I will step down as an MP and ensure that #WestYorkshire has a Full Time Mayor. This is a big job, and it needs the Mayor's full attention.”

Without the context of her legal obligation to stand down, it’s not hard to see how this could be interpreted as a slight on her colleague, Jarvis.

Analysis - Could a Brabin victory spell the end for Sir Keir Starmer?

The by-election which this would trigger will mean that the electorate in Batley and Spen, which falls inside the West Yorkshire combined authority, will soon need to vote for a member of parliament for the fifth time in just over six years - a record in modern British politics.

Batley & Spen’s relationship with the Labour party does not extend quite as far back as Hartlepool’s, the upcoming by-election where Labour will stand a new candidate in a seat they’ve held for decades.

But the area is still one which a few years ago would have been considered a safe-enough seat for Labour, but which now could well turn blue.

The seat has many of the characteristics of the much-discussed ‘red-wall’ seats which opted for the Conservatives in 2019.

Indeed, Brabin’s passionate backing of Remain might have seen her lose the seat last time out, had the Brexit vote not been split three ways.

Here, unlike places like Hartlepool and Hull, it wasn’t the Brexit Party (BXP) which deprived the Conservatives of an upset victory, but an independent candidate with local and Brexit appeal, Paul Halloran.

Had just over half his impressive 6,432 vote total gone instead to the Conservative candidate Mark Brooks, it would have seen Boris Johnson secure a slightly bigger majority in 2019, without needing any of the 1678 votes picked up by BXP’s Clive Minihan.

If Brabin does win the mayoralty, as she is expected to do, Labour will have grave and justified concerns about their ability to hold the seat in a by-election which could, if current polling proves to be accurate, come months after a shock-defeat in Hartlepool.

The Labour party are not expected to do particularly well across the board on 6 May, and a victory in the West Yorkshire mayoral race could be one of precious few positives the party takes from it.

But even that relatively small chalice could prove to be a poisoned one if it precipitates a high profile electoral defeat just a few months afterwards.

Just over a year into his leadership, with questions already raised and whispers already being heard about his suitability for the role, a trio of electoral flops in short succession could well spell the end for Sir Keir Starmer.