Labour has held the parliamentary constituency of Batley and Spen with a majority of 323 votes in a key by-election, a result that will come as a great relief to Keir Starmer and the whole party.
Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, won against Tory candidate Ryan Stephenson, with Labour securing 13,296 votes compared to the Conservatives who won 12,973.
It is rare for governing parties to gain seats in by-elections, but the Tories did so when Labour lost Hartlepool in May. Since the historic defeat, Keir Starmer has been under pressure from critics within the party.
Reacting to the victory, the leader said: “Fantastic result for the brilliant and brave @KimLeadbeater. Kim ran a positive campaign of hope, in the face of division. She will be an outstanding Labour MP for Batley and Spen.”
Leadbeater said it had been “a gruelling few weeks” and thanked the police “who sadly I have needed more than ever”. She added: “There’s lots to do, and I think the campaign has highlighted there’s lots to do.
“But I’m going to crack on with it and do my very best to represent the whole of Batley and Spen as their new MP. I’m absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and they voted for hope.”
Batley and Spen:
Conservative: 12,973 (34.42%)
Labour: 13,296 (35.27%)
Workers Party: 8,264 (21.92%)
Lib Dem: 1,254 (3.33%)
Ballots verified: 37,786
Total eligible electorate: 79,373
A Labour source said: “Everyone’s being calling this a referendum on Keir’s leadership. Well, we’ve won – bucked the trend, held onto this marginal seat and advanced in Tory areas. A fantastic result.”
Insiders have attributed the narrow win partly to personal votes for Leadbeater, who was the only candidate living in the constituency, and to Labour’s get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation to deliver votes on polling day.
“Everyone had stories of finding two people or a house post-7pm who hadn’t delivered a postal vote or had no polling card or needed a bit of a push. We had around 400 out so it was our GOTV,” Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel told LabourList.
George Galloway, a former Labour MP who stood as a Workers Party of Britain candidate, contested the seat with the explicit aim of forcing a Labour defeat and putting pressure on Starmer to quit as opposition leader.
The by-election was characterised by aggression, violence and negative campaigning. Leadbeater was shouted at by activists opposed to LGBT-inclusive education and Labour activists were assaulted.
Ahead of the result being revealed, Leadbeater – the only candidate living in the seat – said: “There have been many highs in this election campaign but sadly there have also been some unacceptable lows.
“The acts of intimidation and violence by some who have come with the sole aim of sowing division have been deeply upsetting to witness. Whatever the result, the priorities of the new MP must be to bring our community together”.
A fake Labour leaflet attempting to stir up anti-Black racism was distributed in the constituency, while a leaflet that the party did issue was criticised by a Labour MP who said “racism is alive and well within Labour”.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour incumbent Tracy Brabin, who had to step down from her parliamentary role when she was elected as the first mayor of West Yorkshire in May.
Labour had won in Batley and Spen in 2019 with a 3,525 majority, down from 8,961 in 2017. Main parties other than Labour did not stand in 2016, when a by-election was held following the murder of Jo Cox.