Keir Starmer has declared that “Labour is back” following the Batley and Spen by-election victory, in which the party’s candidate Kim Leadbeater retained the constituency for the opposition with a 323-vote majority.
Speaking to supporters in Batley and Spen this morning, the Labour leader told those present that the victory announced today is “just the start” for the opposition party, adding: “Labour is coming home.”
“What a fantastic victory. What a really important victory for Batley and Spen – of hope over division and decency over hatred. And I just want to start by saying a massive thank you to all of you for everything you’ve put in,” he said.
“It took incredible courage for Kim to stand here and to go through this campaign – incredible courage. And Kim epitomises everything I want our Labour Party to be, everything I want our Labour Party to be.
“She is of her community. You can’t go round Batley and Spen and not know – everybody knows Kim. However they vote, they all know Kim because of what she’s put in. She’s of her community, she’s for her community, she’s got integrity, she believes in truth and honesty and in bringing people together.”
He thanked Labour activists for their work during the campaign, which saw the party win 13,296 votes on Thursday. Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson won the support of 12,973 residents while George Galloway was backed by 8,264.
Starmer paid tribute to Jo Cox, sister of Leadbeater and the former MP for Batley and Spen who was murdered by a far-right extremist, telling those present today that “there isn’t a day when we all don’t miss Jo, but Kim, she would be so proud”.
The Labour leader described the campaign as “tough”, arguing that “others poisoned it – poisoned it with hatred, with division, of finding difference, of misinformation, of lies, of harassment, threats and intimidation”.
“That that should have happened to Kim, of all people, is unforgivable,” he said. “For all those who engaged in it, and for all those who didn’t call it out, they should be utterly ashamed of themselves. This is a victory of hope over division.
“It is a start. Labour is back. That battle that went on here between decency and honesty and brining people together, and division, manipulation, misinformation, lies, that battle isn’t just in Batley and Spen. That is the battle of modern politics, and the Labour Party is in that battle – we’re going to fight all the way, every inch of the way and we’re going to win that battle.”
Talking to Sky News afterwards, the Labour leader said divisive politics had taken 8,000 votes from Labour but emphasises that while the Tory vote had not faced the same difficulties, the party still failed to take the constituency.
He told viewers: “Kim has won this because Tories in Batley and Spen, former Tory voters, voted for her. So, the left vote, if you like the Labour vote, was split but we won. The Tories had a clean hit – nobody was going against them and they didn’t win. They expected to win this, make no mistake about that.”
Asked about rumours of a leadership challenges circulating before the result, Starmer said: “My message is when the Labour Party sticks to its core values, is rooted in its communities and pulls together, we can win just as we’ve won here.”