Related video: Batley and Spen by-election closer than expected
Labour has unexpectedly won the Batley and Spen by-election in West Yorkshire by just over 300 votes – a result which will ease the pressure on party leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Kim Leadbeater took the seat with 13,296 votes, a majority of just 323 over Tory candidate Ryan Stephenson after a bitterly-fought contest.
Sir Keir hailed the “fantastic result” for Ms Leadbeater. In her victory speech, the new MP said she was delighted that the people of Batley and Spen “rejected division and voted for hope”.
George Galloway, who targeted voters in traditionally Labour areas with the explicit aim of toppling Sir Keir, came third. He vowed to take legal action in a bid to have the result set aide by the courts.
‘Not a great win for Labour’, Tories claim
“This is not a great win for the Labour Party,” said the Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling. “They only won by a matter of just over 300 votes.”
Asked on Sky News if it was the “Matt Hancock effect”, she said: “There was a whole range of issues that effected our campaign.”
Leadbeater has dig at candidates ‘who don’t live round here’
Kim Leadbeater told BBC Radio 4’s Today that her “fantastic victory” in Batley and Spen was down to having “lots and lots of conversations with local people,” she said.
Asked whether Keir Starmer’s leadership had been a factor, she said: “People have tried to make it about bigger, national things but for me it’s been very much about local concerns.”
Asked about George Galloway and the divisive nature of the contest, she said: “We’ve had a huge amount of candidates coming in, who don’t live round here. We need to rebuild now, as a community … I’ll be reaching out to everybody, whoever they voted for.”
And asked about her sister, the late Jo Cox, the new MP replied: “If I can be half the MP that Jo was that’ll be pretty good going.”
New Labour MP ducks question about Starmer
Victorious Labour MP Kim Leadbeater has dodged questions about whether Keir Starmer was an “asset” on the doorstep in Batley and Spen.
“The vast majority of conversations were about local issues,” Leadbeater told BBC Breakfast.
“Most of the conversations weren’t about the Labour leadership – most of the conversations were about day to day lives. That’s all I can say really.”
How Labour survived ‘squeaky bum’ by-election
Conservatives in Batley and Spent were still confident of winning in the wee small hours, but it became clear as the count wore on that it was going to be “squeaky bum time” (in the immortal words of Sir Alex Ferguson).
Our correspondent Colin Drury has spent the last few days in Batley and Spen. Here’s his account of how Labour snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Situation still ‘grim’ for Labour, says Blairite peer
Lord Adonis, a Blairite former cabinet minister, said Labour remains in a “grim” predicament despite the unexpected by-election success.
“The tiny Labour majority of 323 in Batley and Spen will stave off an immediate leadership challenge to Keir Starmer … But obviously the situation is grim.”
Leadbeater wants to hug family – and catch up on sleep
Kim Leadbeater paid tribute to family and friends after winning the seat previously held by her sister Jo Cox. “Without them, I could not have got through the last five years, never mind the last five weeks,” the new Labour MP said.
“My amazing parents and my wonderful partner, and I want to give a special shout out to my niece and nephew who I cannot wait to hug as soon as I see them,” she added, referring to the children of her late sister.
Leadbeater said after catching up on some sleep and “maybe having a few glasses of fizz” she would step into her work as soon as possible.
“I’m going to crack on with it and I will do my very best to represent the whole of Batley and Spen as their new MP. I am absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and they voted for hope.”
Tone of political debate ‘worrying’, says Jo Cox’s husband
The husband of murdered MP Jo Cox has warned of the “worrying tone of political debate” in Britain following the Batley and Spen by-election.
Brendan Cox said some candidates who contested the seat where his wife was killed by a neo-Nazi in 2016 had sought to “divide communities, to turn people against each other, and pour petrol on flames rather than bringing communities together”.
He told The Independent the campaign had tipped over from robust political debate into “intimidation and abuse”, after physical attacks on canvassers.
You can read the whole interview here:
‘We’ve bucked the trend’: Team Starmer jubilant
A senior Labour source said: “Everyone’s been calling this a referendum on Keir’s leadership. Well, we’ve won – bucked the trend, held onto this marginal seat and advanced in Tory areas. A fantastic result.”
Gloating about the Tory campaign, a separate Labour source told Sky News: “Turns out if you try and let George Galloway do your dirty work for you – it’ll certainly be dirty but it won’t work.”
Galloway vows legal action
George Galloway, who came third, has responded to the result with a Trumpian vow to take legal action, saying he would apply to have the result set aside by the courts.
Speaking outside the count, he said his election effort had been damaged by a “false statement” that he had laughed while Labour’s Kim Leadbeater was abused on the campaign trail.
“On multiple grounds we will apply to the courts for this election result to be set aside.”
Tories play down Labour victory
“This is not a Labour win. It’s a Labour hold,” a Tory source told Sky News. “And a very close one at that.”
“We always said this was going to be tight and we’ve seen that tonight.”