Batley and Spen by-election has been 'exhausting', says Labour MP

The Batley and Spen by-election has been "exhausting on different levels" according to Bradford West's Labour MP Naz Shah, who has been campaigning for Kim Leadbeater.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 4:57 am
Updated Friday, 2nd July 2021, 5:00 am
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Batley and Spen by-election candidate Kim Leadbeater tour Batley Bulldogs stadium. Photo: Getty Images

But she and her fellow Labour MPs, activists, volunteers and supporters - not to mention leader Sir Keir Starmer - will have to draw on hidden reserves of strength to get through the days to come, whether the party wins or loses.

In the wee small hours of the morning as votes are being counted Ms Shah is adamant that the fiercely-fought contest will go down to the wire.

"The mood is one of optimism," she told me.

"No one knows what is going to happen; it's too close to call. But if I was predicting, it might be 2,000 [votes to give Labour a majority].

"In 2019 it was a marginal seat and we held it.

"But if we win by one vote this time, we still win."

There have been suggestions that Workers Party candidate George Galloway, who arrived in Batley on a mission to damage Labour and, specifically, its leader, may challenge a Labour win.

Naz Shah who in 2015 won back the Bradford West seat from Mr Galloway, who took it from Labour in 2012, reacts with a snort.

"Mr Galloway says he'll launch a challenge every time someone wins. I'll believe it when I see it."

George Galloway has been an ever-present figure in Batley in recent weeks. He has brought a different dynamic to a constituency already under pressure.

Ms Shah says it has been exhausting like all elections and by-elections are, but this one has been more so.

"It's been exhausting on different levels. Emotionally it really has been because of the history and the legacy.

"This is no normal election and to have to protect Kim knowing that here is a woman standing for election that lost her own sibling on these streets... it has not been easy for people and it makes it much more than just winning an election for us.

"The attachment is so significant. That means the impact has been different emotionally than it would be in a normal election.

"You can feel it."

Three weeks ago Sir Keir Starmer was in Batley to support his candidate. He was asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service if he was facing the biggest challenge of his leadership and, conceivably, whether another by-election defeat would mean the knives would be out for him.

He said: "This by-election is not about me.

“It’s about the people of Batley and Spen and whether they get a fantastic MP who’s going to stick up for them – here, in Parliament and anywhere they need a champion.

“All the others – anybody else who’s making an argument about me or national issues – are being pretty disrespectful to the people of Batley and Spen.”

Ms Shah said: "I agree with Keir. It's not about him. We do a disservice to the people when we start to talk about the leadership.

"It's speculation. It's not a time when we have won or lost. We would be best to wait for the result before talking about it.

"There is no leadership challenge. The election has just happened in Batley and Spen and we need to do it justice."