The Conservatives are firm favourites to win the Batley and Spen by-election on 1st July. This “Red Wall” West Yorkshire seat came up for grabs after Tracy Brabin, the sitting MP, stepped down after winning the West Yorkshire mayoral election in the local elections last month. The Tories, who are fielding Ryan Stephenson, the Chair of the West Yorkshire Conservatives who sits on Leeds council, are upbeat about their campaign. Although Labour fended off the Tory challenge at the last general election in 2019, the Tories are now odds-on to take the seat that’s been Labour’s since 1997.
That’s perhaps not surprising given that the only apparent qualification that the new Labour candidate has is that she is the sister of Jo Cox, the former constituency MP who was murdered by a far-right extremist during the European Union (EU) campaign in 2016.
Kim Leadbeater has obvious campaigning skills. She worked as an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation, which was established to campaign for issues her sister supported, and she was appointed MBE in the New Year's Honours for her work in tackling social isolation. Although she only joined Labour some weeks before her nomination, she has the support of the local Labour party as well as Andy Burnham, the ambitious Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer. Whether that’s enough to see off the Tories in July is another matter altogether.
Fourteen others have put their names down for the election, including the Liberal Democrats and the usual Loonies as well as the assorted also-rans that include the ‘Yorkshire Party’ and George Galloway, who is standing on his own ‘Workers’ Party of Britain’ ticket. Galloway has had spectacular by-election successes in the past; but those days have now long passed along with the Respect party he set up after he was kicked out of the Labour Party by the Blairites in 2003 for opposing the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
It will a big blow to Kim Leadbeater if she loses the by-election. It will be an even bigger one for Sir Kier Starmer, who came under flak from his own Blairite allies after the shock Tory win in Hartlepool in May. Losing this seat could well be the last straw for Starmer.
The Blairites are already preparing their alibis for defeat. The blame-game will begin with renewed calls to drive the remaining Corbynistas out of the Labour Party. It will rapidly be followed by a call for an electoral front with the Liberal Democrats and a final break with the trade union movement – as long as it doesn’t jeopardise the millions of pounds that the unions loyally pump into Labour’s coffers every year.
But if Labour lose it will entirely be down to them and the man with whom they chose to replace Jeremy Corbyn in the first place. No-one knows what Starmer’s crew stands for these days, apart from supporting Israel and witch-hunting former Corbyn supporters who don’t toe the line. The only consistent policy they do have – support for the EU – is one they dare not declare publicly because it would be the kiss of death for their election chances on the street.
The question is not who leads of the Labour Party – although clearly Starmer must go – but who sets the agenda for the party that claims to represent working people. We, as communists, have to fight for the demands of the unions for full employment and the restoration of the public sector, the health service and the welfare state. At the same time, we’ve got to ensure that the communist answer to the crisis is heard once again in factories, offices and streets throughout the land.