Labour MPs and other figures in the labour movement have been reacting to the party’s victory in the Batley and Spen by-election that saw candidate Kim Leadbeater retain the seat for the opposition with by a 323-vote majority.
Shortly after the result emerged, Keir Starmer tweeted: “Fantastic result for the brilliant and brave Kim Leadbeater. Kim ran a positive campaign of hope, in the face of division. She will be an outstanding Labour MP for Batley and Spen.”
The Labour leader pledged that “this is just the start”. Commenting after the victory, he said: “This is a fantastic result for the brilliant and brave Kim Leadbeater who will be an incredible Labour MP for Batley and Spen.
“Kim has shown inspiring resilience in the face of hatred and intimidation. She was unafraid to call it out and ran a positive campaign of hope. Kim embodies everything I want the Labour Party to stand for: passionate about her local community and determined to bring people together.
“We won this election against the odds, and we did so by showing that when we are true to our values – decency, honesty, committed to improving lives – then Labour can win. This result shows Labour at its best.”
Angela Rayner tweeted: “Couldn’t be prouder of Kim and the campaign she ran in the face of disgusting abuse and intimidation.” The deputy Labour leader added that the new MP “conducted herself with dignity and grace”.
Shabana Mahmood MP, praised for her role in the win as national campaign coordinator, said: “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.”
Peter Mandelson accused “Corbynite elements on the left” of having watched the campaign of George Galloway, who came third in the contest taking 20% of the vote, “with glee”, adding: “Those people should have been campaigning… instead of conspiring in smoke filled rooms.”
He told BBC Radio 4 this morning that “while others were campaigning in Batley, they were conspiring”. Left MPs rejected the claim. Kate Osborne took to social media saying there was “absolutely no evidence of this”.
“I like other ‘left’ MPs went to Batley and Spen to campaign for Kim Leadbeater and are delighted that we secured a Labour victory,” she added.
Diane Abbott MP called the victory a “great result” this morning, but argued the party’s policies need “sharpening”; “We need to continue to think about policy, to sharpen and better define policy, but we won and we’re moving forward.”
Barry Gardiner MP described the win as a “victory for decency over hate”, while shadow minister Sarah Jones said: “Bringing people together through hope and ambition for Batley and Spen, Kim shows us what good politics looks like.”
Margaret Hodge MP tweeted: “Those exploiting these prejudices failed. All political parties must now stand up & root out this hatred from our democracy.”
Navendu Mishra MP, who raised concerns earlier this week after a controversial leaflet was distributed in the constituency, tweeted: “Congratulations Kim Leadbeater and all Labour activists who worked so hard.”
“The tiny Labour majority of 323 in Batley and Spen will stave off an immediate leadership challenge to Keir Starmer, just as the tiny Labour majority of 683 in the Peterborough by-election of June 2019 preserved Corbyn’s leadership two years ago,” former Labour minister Lord Adonis said. “But obviously the situation is grim.”
Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood thanked activists and Leadbeater for their work on the campaign but warned that “we can’t pretend that this was a general election winning performance”, highlighting that Labour’s share of the vote was down 20 points on the 2017 election.
“This narrow victory must act as a wakeup call for the leadership: we can no longer take Labour’s core vote, particularly Muslim voters, for granted,” he said. “Labour needs to be a party that fights on the same side as working people and argues that workers, not billionaires, should control how society is rebuilt after the pandemic.”
Labour to Win congratulated Leadbeater, adding: “In the face of the politics of division and fear, Labour have delivered a win on a message of hope. Batley & Spen has a local, hardworking MP who we have been proud to campaign hard for.”
Compass director Neal Lawson said that the result “proves Labour is even further from being able to win alone” and argued that the absence of a Green Party candidate in the race was “probably crucial”.
“This shows that progressive party competition can be deadly,” he said. “The onus is not on any party to automatically stand aside, but on Labour to give them a reason to consider it. A cast-iron guarantee on proportional representation is just the first step on the road to a more radical and plural politics.”
Turnout in the by-election was 47.6%. Leadbeater took 13,296 votes, her Conservative rival Ryan Stephenson gained 12,973 votes while 8,264 residents backed George Galloway. Lib Dem Thomas Gordon came fourth with 1,254 votes.