Batley and Spen loss would mean the end for Starmer – Liberal Article
The Batley and Spen by-election will change this country’s politics. Nestled between Bradford and Leeds, this largely working-class constituency has returned a Labour MP since 1997. However, this time things are different. The people of Batley and Spen are disillusioned with what Labour has become. Labour now has the potential to lose. If it does, not only does Starmer face an internal crisis, but the sack. The party’s vision lies in the balance.
On paper, Labour has the perfect candidate. Succeeding former Labour MP Tracy Brabin is Kim Leadbeater. Living in Batley throughout her life, Leadbeater is determined for politics to change. For Labour to reconnect with its core. For Batley and its concerns to be a priority, not an afterthought.
Regarding Brexit, Leadbeater has continuously asserted that she wishes to respect the vote of her constituents to Leave the EU. Unlike her colleague in Hartlepool, who campaigned for a Second Referendum and then foolishly contested a heavily-Brexit seat, Leadbeater is largely in tune with her constituents. In every way, Leadbeater is a proud contrast to the London-obsessed establishment.
Leadbeater is also the sister of Jo Cox. June 16th 2016 is a day that will live in infamy. A day when the first MP since Ian Gow was assassinated. Jo Cox’s murder left a massive trauma on the people of Batley, a trauma most painfully felt by Leadbeater. Cox brought a different type of politics to the table, promoting institutional change. Leadbeater wants to continue her sister’s legacy to bring a better deal for her constituents first and foremost.
Yet, despite Kim’s best efforts and her history in Batley, Labour faces some considerable threats.
Galloway, the Left, and Halloran
Enter George Galloway. An eccentric, controversial, and notorious political firebrand, Galloway epitomises a completely different style of politics to Leadbeater, despite both sharing similar platforms of social welfare and international justice.
The man is a through-and-through opportunist. Bouncing from London to Bradford to his native Scotland and back to West Yorkshire, he has contested elections without any regard to local loyalty. His super-charged left-wing programme is his only baggage.
Yet, he sticks. Although he has encountered some defeats, most humiliatingly in the 2021 Scottish elections, Galloway has had some shocking successes as well. Most notably, Bethnal Green in 2005 and Bradford West in 2012. He hopes to emulate this once again in Batley and Spen. Galloway may appear as a joke, particularly after his performance on Big Brother, but he shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
In particular, his years spent in support of Palestine, and his attacks on the Iraq War and islamophobia, have strongly appealed to Batley’s sizeable Muslim electorate. Often greeted with rapturous crowds, Galloway is filling a void that Starmer has left. Indeed, not only is Starmer’s name rarely heard, but also rarely appreciated. Many in Batley’s Muslim community feel they have been overlooked, misused, and even ‘treated like dirt’ by the local Labour Party. For too long, the party has taken their vote for granted.
Then there are the smattering of other left-wingers contesting the seat. Despite almost all targeting Tory-controlled Westminster, their infighting is inadvertently allowing the Tories their best opportunity since 1992 to win the seat. The Greens and Lib Dems, combined with Galloway, could ensure the left-wing vote divides irreparably.
There is one hope, though. If Paul Halloran runs, the Tories face a significant challenger. Winning 12% of the vote in the 2019 General election, Halloran and his right-wing campaign could be the obstacle blocking another Tory gain. Halloran has yet to declare whether he is running or not, but the Conservative’s refusal to choose a local candidate could eventually sway his decision.
What this election will show, if anything, is that Starmer and the indecisive Labour he represents is failing to win Batley. The fact that we are talking inevitably about Labour haemorrhaging, not gaining, votes in a constituency they scooped up in 2017 is extremely telling. In any case, George Galloway is right about one thing: ‘If Kier Starmer loses this by-election it’s curtains for Kier Starmer’.
Solutions for Starmer?
Starmer is running out of time to fix the damage. There are a few tactics he could take to buoy his reputation, but it may be too little too late.
Crucially, Starmer must relaunch his appraised, socialist 2020 manifesto with adaptations made for the pandemic. He should stress economic resuscitation and employment opportunities, with a uniquely Labour spin. Policies such as the Green New Deal need to be shouted from the hilltops. In particular, there should be an emphasis on local rebuilding. Leadbeater’s popularity rests on her genuine roots in the community. Starmer needs to build on this bottom-up approach if he is to survive.
Starmer also needs to return to Labour’s cultural roots. He must listen to the voices and values of a largely working-class constituency and actively factor them into his leadership. Aspects such as real patriotism (not just flag-waving crowd-pandering rubbish), personal responsibility, and respect for tradition must be reappraised. Whether Starmer has the time, or the backbone, to do this though is another question.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Point of Information
Starmer is already on a sinking ship – A Conservative Response
My colleague accurately captures the downward spiral that is Starmer’s Labour Party. As Frank notes, the vision of Labour has been lost with Starmer. If Labour is to lose Batley and Spen, Starmer may be at the end of his leadership sooner rather than later.
In the 2019 election, 86% of Muslim voters said that they backed Labour. In a sizeable Muslim electorate, as Frank highlights, Labour’s treatment of Muslims is unlikely to be dismissed. The Muslim community are integral to the success of the Labour Party. Whilst Leadbeater covers international relations such as Palestine and the Iraq War in her campaigns, “Muslim party members resentfully mutter that candidates from their community were overlooked because Leadbeater is the sister of former Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox”.
I question whether Leadbeater’s engagement with the Muslim community is enough?
I largely agree with Frank when he states that Starmer needs to “build on this bottom-up approach” if he is to maintain his place as the leader of the Labour party. However, I highly doubt that Starmer will do this. Labour has completely lost sight of its cultural roots, as Frank states. If Labour is to continue disregarding their Muslim voters, who make up a large demographic of their voters, then they will continue to collapse.
Is there really any going back now?
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Starmer is certainly in trouble – A Labour Response
I agree that this is a huge test of Keir Starmer’s leadership. British Muslims are a key part of Labour’s fraying voting coalition. A stunning 86% of Muslim voters backed Labour in the 2019 election. However, there has been growing discontent with Starmer’s leadership among Muslim communities, as reflected in recent polling. The outcome of this byelection in a constituency with a sizable Muslim population will thus prove very significant for Labour.
I concur with Frank’s diagnosis of Galloway as a political opportunist. However, he represents a serious threat to Labour retaining the seat.
Frank and I differ more on the possible solutions available to Starmer. Until recently, Starmer has seemed to downplay the importance of foreign policy in winning votes, aiming to stay quiet on key issues such as Palestine. But after the poor polling in Batley and Spen was published, Starmer shifted to ‘a sudden flag-waving for the Palestinian Cause’. A move that was regarded by many insincere and opportunistic. It is perhaps too late to win back the comfortable support of Labour’s Muslim base.
I question Frank’s claim that Starmer must introduce ‘real patriotism and a respect for tradition’ to survive as Labour leader. Batley and Spen have demonstrated the simplicity of the narrative peddled by the press after the loss of the Red wall in the 2019 election. The Red Wall is not solely occupied by older white men who disapprove of Labour’s identity politics and their stance in the culture war. A more diverse and intricate policy response than ‘patriotism and tradition’ is required to maintain and win back what was Labour’s key voting bloc.
Written by Deputy Chief Labour Writer, Brian Byrne