Kim Leadbeater on becoming an MP: 'It’s about the role that you can have in making a difference to people’s lives'
An MP’s first few days in the job are like the “first day at school”, Kim Leadbeater suggests, as she describes settling in as the newest member of the House of Commons.
Fresh from the by-election which many had expected Labour to lose, the former college lecturer and fitness instructor is still trying to source enough mugs and chairs for her Parliamentary office.
But despite having “a lot to sort out” she praises the support of her family as she faces the mammoth task of representing the Batley and Spen seat once held by her sister.
“When you come in on a by-election, you have a very intense campaign to get elected”, she tells the Yorkshire Post.
“And then I was fortunate enough to get elected, and then you are suddenly on a train to London, and starting a brand new job, which you weren’t sure you were ever going to get. So it’s all very strange.”
Her defeat of Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson by just 323 votes means Batley and Spen is now held by one of the smallest majorities in the UK, something Ms Leadbeater says made for “a tense Thursday evening” on polling day.
“I knew it was going to be close, I was always optimistic and confident that we could do it. And I’m very proud that we did do it”.
Sixteen candidates were on the final ballot paper which meant “it was never going to be easy”, but now in the position, Ms Leadbeater now wants to engage with the more than half of the electorate who didn’t turn out for the by-election.
“The main thing for me is, you know, if you’re in a public position, how you can use that public position to do good. That’s why I did the work with the foundation and that’s why I put myself out to be the MP.
“So this for me isn’t about being on the telly. It’s not about having your photo taken. It’s not about people knowing who you are, it’s about the role that you can have in making a difference to people’s lives and that’s the way that I’ll be approaching the job”.
The Leadbeater family were thrown into the international spotlight in June 2016 when Kim’s older sister and then Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox was murdered in the street in the constituency.
Revealing that her father has been ill with cancer and was receiving treatment throughout the election campaign, Ms Leadbeater is somewhat glad it meant her family were distracted from some of the more tense aspects of the campaign.
“People won’t know because we didn’t tell anyone but my Dad sadly got quite poorly before the election and he got kidney cancer,” she says.
“On the day I got selected he had to have his kidney taken out, so he’d had a really tough time while all this was going on, which I guess was a blessing because they didn’t see some of that nastiness.”
The election trail was marred with accusations of intimidation, with a video of Ms Leadbeater being shouted at on the street going viral on social media.
“As a woman who has chosen to put herself forward for this position”, she described abuse in the street as “not acceptable”.
“I’ll answer anybody’s question. But you know, some of the stuff that went on, they didn’t want me to answer their questions, they just wanted to shout at me, and that’s very, very different.”
Being thrust onto the political frontline was a very different experience to that of seeing her sister enter Parliament in 2015, with Ms Leadbeater and her family happy to play the supporting role.
“We always used to say to Jo when [she] got elected ‘we don’t want anyone to know who we are, we want to stay behind the scenes, we’ll look after you, we’ll look after the kids, we’ll sort your travel out and your food and all of the rest of it because Jo was always disorganised but it’s been a five year learning experience for me.”
Her Dad is now “recovering well” and both of her parents were “over the moon and very emotional” at news of her win, and even found time to do media interviews the morning after - something which prompted an “oh my god” response from Ms Leadbeater.
She says fondly of Jean and Gordon: “They want to support me, and they want to do what’s right for our community. And I couldn’t do any of it without their support.”
Ms Leadbeater has already made her first appearance in the Commons chamber, sitting under the crest for her late sister designed by her niece and nephew, inscribed with the now famous words from Ms Cox’s maiden speech - “more in common.”
Reflecting on the time her sister spent here, she says: “Being in the House was really emotional as I knew it would be, but I was also incredibly proud.”
“Jo used to say to me ‘oh, you should do more, you should push yourself, you’re wasted, you should challenge yourself .
“Being in the House being here generally is emotional, I’d spent time here with the [Jo Cox] Foundation and I’d come down when Jo was elected so I’m not intimidated by it, but obviously there’s a very powerful history for me associated with this place.
“A lot of that makes me even more determined to be focussed and to do a really good job and you know, if I can be half the MP that Jo was then I will be very very happy with that.”