Keir Starmer: 'Batley and Spen by-election is not about me'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer refused to be drawn into a war of words with former MP George Galloway on a campaigning visit to Batley and Spen.
Sir Keir met Labour’s by-election candidate Kim Leadbeater at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium, home of Batley Bulldogs RLFC.
At the bottom of the hill he would have seen a huge poster on the side of the Indian Nights restaurant showing Mr Galloway, fists raised in a boxing pose, with the slogan: ‘Starmer Out.’
Mr Galloway, who has a prominent campaign office in the former Brooklands bar in Bradford Road, has made it his mission to ensure defeat for Labour, a result which would threaten Sir Keir’s position as leader.
Asked about Mr Galloway turning the election personal, Sir Keir 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 is going to stick up for them whenever they need a champion.
“All of the candidates who are trying to make this by-election about me, about something else or a national issue are disrespecting the people of Batley and Spen.”
Sir Keir wanted to turn the focus onto local people and local issues and stressed that of the 16 candidates, only Ms Leadbeater - sister of Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered in Birstall in June 2016 - hailed from the constituency.
“There’s only one candidate who is talking about Batley and Spen, about what’s needed for Batley and Spen, who has a plan for Batley and Spen, who lives here and was born here, who breathes Batley and Spen,” said Sir Keir.
“And what’s Kim done in the last five years since that tragic incident? She has brought the communities of Batley and Spen together.
“She is the only one arguing about Batley and Spen and anyone else making an argument about anything else is disrespecting the people of Batley and Spen.”
Sir Keir was the first high profile Westminster figure to visit ahead of the vote on July 1 and admitted “the circus” had come to town for the next three weeks.
He added: “Once the circus of the by-election is gone and the cameras and the microphones are gone, all the other candidates will be gone but Kim will still be here fighting for her community, bringing people together.
“I want to focus on the positive campaign that Kim is running. What I want is a champion and an advocate. Being an MP is an incredible privilege and your first duty is to stick up for your communities.”
Ms Leadbeater, too, was only focusing on her campaign and said: “I am not going to be distracted by other people’s agendas.
“I will focus on what I’m doing. The circus is coming to Batley and Spen and when that circus leaves I have to live here, we all have to live here peacefully and respectfully.
"Of those 16 people I will be the only one left here, whatever happens.
“It makes me really quite sad that local people who have already been through an awful lot, with the pandemic on top of everything else, to have another three weeks of upset and distress. It’s not pleasant at times and my goal is to rise above that and focus.
“Local people are tired of people coming here who don’t have their best interests at heart and we have seen a lot of that over the last few years. The sad thing for me is that detracts from the great work that goes on in our communities.”