Labour’s Batley and Spen candidate Kim Leadbeater has described as “catastrophic” the way that the constituency is “being used as a political football” ahead of the parliamentary by-election on July 1st.
In an online hustings hosted by Yorkshire Live on Wednesday, the sister of Jo Cox – who was murdered while serving as the constituency’s MP in 2016 – declared that she was “taking nothing for granted”.
She said: “What is catastrophic is that Batley and Spen is being used as a political football by people. That breaks my heart, to think that this community I love, the area where I was born and raised, is being used by people with their own agendas who are coming into this area.
“When you all go, I have to live here. We have to live here as a community. The people of Batley and Spen do not deserve to be used in this way. It’s really, really unfair. And be reassured as well, I’m taking nothing for granted.
“Nobody’s vote should be taken for granted by any politician ever. Because every single person across this area matters, and they matter deeply to me. I think you’re right Ryan [the Tory candidate], people do want a change.
“I think what they want is someone who is not a typical politician. They want someone who has not been in politics for 50 years. They want somebody who is a breath of fresh air and wants to bring something different to the party.”
George Galloway, who is standing in the by-election to increase the chances of a Labour defeat, argued in response that Leadbeater should not be “complaining about people bringing politics, heaven forfend, into a parliamentary by-election”.
In comments directed back at Galloway, who suggested during the hustings that she was being “at best terribly naive”, Leadbeater said “there is a very clear distinction between politics and political games”.
The Labour candidate also defended the party’s record on Palestine, saying Keir Starmer “has spoken out but it hasn’t cut through”. She added: “There will be nobody who will fight more passionately about Palestine than I will.”
The candidates discussed the row over a teacher in Batley Grammar School showing students a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed. Leadbeater said the events were “very upsetting for our community”.
The Labour candidate said: “We’ve got to have the right to freedom of speech but we should also be really sensitive to other people’s feelings and opinions. That’s how I feel about life generally.
“If we are going to live together peacefully in a community where people come from different backgrounds, we have to find a way to do that. I think we do do that generally really well across Batley and Spen actually.”
She added that she was “satisfied with the results” of the investigation, which concluded that the teaching staff involved in the lesson “genuinely believed that using the image had an educational purpose and benefit”.
Galloway attacked Leadbeater’s response, saying it was “clear as mud”. He said the teacher had “absolutely no right” to show the caricature, and described the image as “horrific” and “insulting”.
Voters in Batley and Spen will go to the polls on July 1st. If Labour loses the seat it has held since 1997 to the governing party, the defeat would be a devastating one particularly after the loss of Hartlepool in May.