How Labour activists could hardly knock on a door in Batley and Spen without meeting someone who knew Kim Leadbeater

The Yorkshire Post's new Westminster Correspondent Caitlin Doherty reflects on the last week in Batley and Spen after a tumultuous by-election campaign.

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 3:47 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd July 2021, 3:48 pm

At the end of a campaign that had been loud, divisive and bitter, you could have heard a pin drop in the final moments of the Batley and Spen by-election.

The constituency had been predicted as an easy win for Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson. Tragedy was expected for Labour again in yet another northern English seat they had held for decades.

Kim Leadbeater after casting her vote in the Batley and Spen by-election. Pic: PA

But throughout the evening, figures on both the Tory and Labour sides had been keen to keep their cards as close to their chest as they possibly could, with rumours starting to swirl that the eventual result could be close.

Despite this, there was still surprise in the Huddersfield counting hall in the early hours of Friday when it was announced that bundles of ballots would be double checked not once, but twice.

Then Brendan Cox posted a tweet. ‘More in common x” he said. Minutes before the vote was officially declared, that nod to the maiden speech of his late wife Jo Cox indicated that Cox’s sister and Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater had pulled off a shocking victory by the narrowest of margins.

With 13,296 votes for Labour compared to Mr Stephenson’s 12,973, Batley and Spen is now one of the most marginal seats in the country. George Galloway secured a third place finish with 8,264 votes, having stood in an attempt to topple Sir Keir Starmer from the Labour leadership.

His Workers Party campaign team were so convinced of their success that in the early hours of Friday they were suggesting Labour could have fallen into third place.

Amid some pessimism in the days and hours leading up to the close of polls, Labour activists campaigning in the constituency in the final few days before the vote couldn’t have spoken more highly of the influence that energetic Kim as an individual - not just as Labour candidate - was having on the vote.

On a visit to the constituency last Monday, shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds remarked that it had been tough to complete a door knocking round without finding somebody who knew Kim in some way or another.

Whether they had gone to school with her, attended her exercise classes, knew other members of the family or even “used to go knitting with my Auntie”, the Labour candidate was well-known among the community.

It was even happening with Zoom campaigning, Mr Thomas-Symonds said.

The police officers stationed around the counting hall and outside in the car park of Huddersfield Cathedral House were a reminder of the tensions this by-election brought to the fore.

Accusations of intimidation and violence followed the campaign in its closing days. Ms Leadbeater was confronted by a man who challenged her over the situation in Kashmir and her stance on LGBT education in schools amid what he said were concerns from Muslim parents, and other Labour activists alleged they were pelted with eggs and kicked in the head last weekend.

Despite this, the optimism that Ms Leadbeater had taken on to the door steps carried through, all the way to after 5am on Friday morning, when having just been announced as MP, she told the cameras: “I am absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and they voted for hope.”