JO Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater has won the Batley and Spen by-election in a nail-biting crunch victory – five years after Jo’s murder.
The new MP was emotional today as she made a passionate vow to do her sister “proud” after winning her old seat by just 323 votes.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the win as a “fantastic result” and will head up to West Yorkshire today to celebrate.
The Batley and Spen seat was represented by Jo Cox until she was shot and stabbed in a brutal attack by a far-right extremist in June 2016.
And Ms Leadbeater managed to cling onto it in a shock majority this morning, securing 13,296 votes overall.
In a heartfelt statement, she said: “I’m absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and they’ve voted for hope.”
She added: “It has been a very emotional campaign and today is very emotional for me for lots of reasons.
“But if I can be half the MP Jo was, I know I will do her proud and I’ll do her family proud. Fingers crossed I’ll do a fantastic job, just as she did.”
It came as:
- Tories admitted the Matt Hancock affair may have cost them votes and lost them the poll
- Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership looked safe for now as rivals backed off from plotting an immediate challenge to get rid of him
- Ex-Labour spinner Peter Mandelson said Corbynite lefties were “eager” for Labour to lose and try and generate a challenge to Sir Keir Starmer, accusing them of “conspiring”
Labour sources had been increasingly gloomy at their prospects of holding onto the crunch Yorkshire seat after a bitter and divisive campaign battle, where George Galloway was determined to split the vote.
The news is a huge relief for Labour boss Sir Keir, who was facing a fight to cling onto his seat if he had lost.
But a Labour source told HOAR this morning: “Everyone’s being 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.”
The Labour leader today praised the “inspiring resilience” shown by Ms Leadbeater in her victory which came “against the odds”.
“This is a fantastic result for the brilliant and brave Kim Leadbeater who will be an incredible Labour MP for Batley and Spen,” Sir Keir said in a statement.
“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.
“She will be an outstanding Labour MP for Batley and Spen.”
Ms Leadbeater had been expected to hoover up loyal Labour backers.
Pundits predicted that Mr Galloway would hoover up chunks of the Labour vote, allowing the Tory rival Ryan Stephenson to swoop in and win.
Insiders last night said the battle was looking “very, very tight”.
This morning Peter Mandelson said there were “elements of the Corbynite left who seemed far too eager” for George Galloway to split the vote and “resolve in a blow to Keir Starmer and his leadership”.
In a scathing assessment he told the BBC: “While others were campaigning in Batley, they were conspiring.
“They should stop their whispering, their agitation. Angele Rayner should realise these are not her friends.
“She is being egged on by people who are serving their own factional interests, not hers.”
He said there was “not very subtle opportunity” to hit Sir Keir with, and urged them to keep quiet now.
And he urged the Labour boss to use the result “to take the party in an election-winning direction – we have to demonstrate we are ready for Governent”.
“He has got to map out a very clear way forward for the party.”
However, Corbyn-ally Diane Abbott said he should return to the 2019 policies which flopped in the general election, leading to a staggering defeat for Labour.
She told the BBC: “We have to think about policy and sharpen and better define that policy.
“It’s about not abandoning the policies that were popular in 2019.
“It’s about getting a policy direction right and making that clear.”
Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling said the party’s failure to win was “disappointing” but insisted it was not a “great win” for Labour as they’d only scraped the result.
The party previously held the seat with 3,000 votes, with the majority completely slashed down now, and a bit of a swing to the Tories.
“This was always going to be really a tough battle for us,” she told Sky News.
“We didn’t win this in 2019. Governing parties don’t tend to win by-elections.
“This is a Labour hold, not a Labour gain.”
She added: “It was a very, very close result. This is not a great win for the Labour Party. They have only won by a matter of just over 300 votes.”
She added that Matt Hancock’s behaviour played a part in the defeat, stressing the defeat was down to “a whole range of issues”.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said Kim had “fought off a toxic campaign with energy and positivity”, adding that her victory was a “stunning result that means so much to the whole Labour family”.
Meanwhile, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the “process of bringing a fractured community together” can now begin.
It comes after Leadbeater accused political rivals of “intimidation and violence” as counting got underway last night.
After the polls closed at 10pm, she Tweeted a statement calling on the whoever won the by-election to “bring our community together and start working for local people”.
“There have been many highs of this election campaign but sadly there have also been some unacceptable lows
“The acts of intimidation and violence by some who have come here with the sole aim of sowing division have been deeply upsetting to witness.
“Whatever the result tonight, the first priorities of the new MP must be to bring our community together and start working for local people in every part of the constituency I am proud to call my home.”
Sources on the ground previously insisted the result was “impossible to call” and the result would be “very very tight”.
Sir Keir’s spokesman played down the prospect of a victory by saying it “has always been a marginal seat” and that winning “was always going to be challenging”.
Losing Batley would be the third humiliating defeat in a row for embattled Sir Keir, who lost Labour stronghold Hartlepool, followed by scraping just 600 votes in Chesham and Amersham last month.
Labour denied again that Sir Keir would throw in the towel if he lost again, insisting: “He’s not going anywhere.”
His deputy Ms Rayner distanced herself from a possible leadership bid, first reported by HOAR two weeks ago, but refused to deny allies are plotting their next moves if Labour’s result is dire.
She said the story that friends were sounding out support was “news to me” and her spokesperson said anyone doing so was “not doing it under instructions from Angela, or with Angela’s backing”.
They said: “She is also perfectly capable of speaking for herself and doesn’t need anyone to claim to speak for her.”
And twice-defeated Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham finally admitted he might return to Westminster, saying: “I’m prepared to go back, but as something different.”
He hastily added: “I would, but not anytime soon.”
Hard-left MPs such as Richard Burgeon and Dawn Butler have also been identified as possible candidates, but fear they can’t get the votes needed to officially bring a leadership challenge to under-fire Sir Keir.
Batley and Spen has voted Labour since 1997, but has a moderate majority of just 3,000.
Ex-Corrie star Tracy Brabin sparked the by-election battle when she won the West Yorkshire Mayoralty in May.