Labour’s new MP for Batley and Spen has refused to say whether Keir Starmer was more of an asset or problem on the by-election campaign trail.
Kim Leadbeater narrowly hung onto the West Yorkshire seat by 300 votes, defying expectations of a Tory win but losing ground on her party’s 2019 result.
The result is a relief for Labour leader Sir Keir, who is unlikely to face a widely-rumoured leadership challenge in the aftermath of the surprise victory.
But asked during an interview on the BBC whether Keir Starmer was “more asset than problem” at the by-election, Ms Leadbeater said:
“The focus of the campaign was very much listening to local people and speaking to local people and sometimes national issues came up, but I have to be honest, the vast majority of conversations were about very local issues.
“People want to feel that we’ve got an MP who cares about this community, you know, and as someone who’s lived here their whole life and has lived in various different places across the constituency, I think that’s where the connection came from during the campaign, you know, the fact that I was local.
“So national still plays a part but for me this really was about the local issues that people care about and they want someone they can trust and put their faith in going forward and I think the fact that I’m born and bred here has been really important to people.”
Pushed to directly answer the question of whether Sir Keir was an “asset” or not on the doorstep, she would only reply: “I think, like I say, most of the conversations weren’t about the Labour leadership, most of the conversations were about people’s day to day lives. I think that’s probably all I can say really.”
According to a Survation poll of the constituency conducted in mid-June, Sir Keir had a net favourability rating of -32 per cent in the constituency, compared to a +18 rating for Boris Johnson.
Insurgent candidate George Galloway, who won nearly 22 per cent of the vote in the by-election to come third, tried to capitalise on Sir Keir’s unpopularity in the seat – running poster with the message “Starmer Out”.
But as well as taking votes off Labour he appears to have eaten into the Tory vote, which was down in both absolute and percentage terms on 2019.
In a statement, Sir Keir praised the “inspiring resilience” shown by Kim Leadbeater in her victory “against the odds” in the Batley and Spen by-election.
“This is a fantastic result for the brilliant and brave Kim Leadbeater who will be an incredible Labour MP for Batley and Spen,” he said.
“Kim has shown inspiring resilience in the face of hatred and intimidation. She was unafraid to call it out and ran a positive campaign of hope. Kim embodies everything I want the Labour Party to stand for: passionate about her local community and determined to bring people together.
“We won this election against the odds, and we did so by showing that when we are true to our values – decency, honesty, committed to improving lives – then Labour can win. This result shows Labour at its best. This is just the start.”