Batley and Spen – runners and riders

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Tracy Brabin has won the inaugural West Yorkshire mayor race. As her new role includes police and crime commissioner powers, and MPs are not allowed to simultaneously be PCCs or hold posts with those powers, Brabin’s victory will trigger a by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Batley and Spen.

Brabin has been MP here since the 2016 by-election, which took place after the murder of Jo Cox. In the general election the following year, Brabin held the seat with a 8,961 majority. In 2019, however, this was reduced to 3,525, which is around the same size as the one Labour had in Hartlepool.

The last time, the Tory candidate was not far behind. But there was also a candidate from the ‘Heavy Woollen District Independents’, who got a significant 6,432 votes (a share of over 12%). He campaigned for local NHS services, as well as a ‘clean’ Brexit and “taking back control of our borders”.

Locals are worried about this candidate, Paul Halloran. They say he ran on a platform of being strongly anti-Labour and anti-Brabin, with a divisive campaign that led to some of his voters “slamming doors and swearing at Labour activists”.

The by-election is predicted to be a big headache for Labour, and specifically for the leadership, particularly after the chaotic Angela Rayner situation that unfolded as results from the May 6th elections were still coming in.

This seat is similar to Hartlepool in terms of majority size, but unlike Hartlepool it was Tory until 1997. There could also be an even bigger ‘vaccine bounce’ with all restrictions lifted by the time of the vote, which Labour sources estimate will be late July.

The dynamics in the North East are, however, very different to West Yorkshire – and local issues can be decisive. The big one dividing the local community is the row over Batley Grammar School, after a teacher showed students a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed.

Below are the big names doing the rounds so far. They are not all confirmed as wanting to stand. This list will be updated as the situation develops. Get in touch by email with tips…

Salma Arif – The Leeds councillor became cabinet member for public health this year. She is also a lead member of Child Friendly Leeds and co-chair of Nisa Nashim (bringing Jewish and Muslim communities closer).

Sources have suggested that the leadership is keen on Arif and that there is likely to be a contest, unlike for Hartlepool, but the shortlist will be drawn up in her favour – and likely be all-women.

The party machine is “already working in her favour”, one said. But senior local party members may object, partly because she is from Leeds and partly because they do not want an imposed candidate.

Aafaq Butt – The councillor for Heckmondwike on Kirklees Council is a GMB activist who worked closely with Jo Cox.

Hugh Goulbourne – Thought to be considering a go is this Huddersfield lawyer whose bid for the West Yorkshire mayoral selection was backed by Labour peer Baroness Osamor among others. He was shortlisted but of course lost out to Brabin.

Susan Hinchcliffe – The leader of Bradford council may be interested but LabourList has been told she could be made statutory deputy mayor.

Dan Howard – From the constituency, he works on communications for the regional party, and used to work for Mike Wood who was MP for Batley and Spen from 1997 to 2015.

Lisa Johnson – The director of external relations at GMB trade union has been reported as a potential candidate but LabourList understands she is not interested.

Jawad Khan – This trade union activist and member of the Young Labour national committee, a mentee of Brabin, is from the local party. He was third on Labour’s European candidates list for the Yorkshire and the Humber in 2019, and could secure union and left-wing support, but may not be up for it.

Kim Leadbeater – Jo Cox’s sister is a campaigner who has received an MBE for services to social cohesion, the local community and combatting loneliness during the pandemic. She is an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation and chairs the West Yorkshire ‘More In Common’ volunteer group.

Update, May 12th: Leadbeater has confirmed her interest in being the candidate and local sources say she is the most likely candidate now, especially if the party draws up an all-women shortlist.

Naheed Mather – The Kirklees councillor for Dalton Ward, cabinet member for environment.

Shabir Pandor – The Labour leader of Kirklees Council, who is councillor for Batley West ward, elected to lead the local authority in May 2018.

Paula Sherriff – The former MP for Dewsbury may be interested, but LabourList has heard some nervousness about putting up an ex-MP who lost a seat at the last general election in light of Hartlepool. She replied “I’m genuinely flattered” to someone who suggested she would be the perfect candidate.

Habiban Zaman – Batley East councillor who works for Tracy Brabin.

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