The Labour Party is in trouble in the Batley and Spen by-election—and it deserves to be in trouble.
Labour has held the seat in West Yorkshire for 24 years. Its candidate Kim Leadbeater is the sister of Jo Cox. Cox was the MP for the constituency until she was murdered by a far right supporter in 2016.
Much of the press coverage says that Labour could lose simply because it has alienated Muslim voters. That is a factor, but it’s far from the whole story.
Mary, a Unison union member in local government, told Socialist Worker, “I campaigned enthusiastically for Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 and 2019.
“I won’t campaign now because I think Keir Starmer is useless.
“I don’t know what the point of Labour is anymore, what’s its aim? That’s not some slur on Starmer, I genuinely haven’t a clue what vision he has for places like Batley or Dewsbury.
“And Kim Leadbeater I’m sure is a nice woman, but she only rejoined the party a few weeks ago and she campaigns as if she is standing for the council. It’s so low level.”
Leadbeater’s early leaflet had a hugely uninspiring five pledges. Number one was “More police to fight crime and anti-social behaviour”. Others were “better roads”, “cleaner streets”, “revitalised town centres” and “good jobs for local people”.
She then released a video pledging, “I will lead a fightback against litter, working with local volunteers to organise regular street cleans for towns and villages to be proud of.”
This is particularly ineffective because the council, responsible for these local matters, is run by Labour.
Sensing that her campaign was faltering, Leadbeater then released a very carefully phrased leaflet about Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia. It called for a “two state solution” in Palestine, self-determination for Kashmir and action against Islamophobia.
But for many voters it reeked of panic and tokenism.
Batley resident Rayan told Socialist Worker, “When someone supposedly discovers their principles halfway through an election, I smell something wrong.”
The alienation of some Muslims will be used as a cover if Labour loses. It will be an excuse to say that “local factors” undermined Starmer. Yet the crisis goes much further.
It is about Labour’s inability to offer working class people a way forward. That is why Boris Johnson and the Tories not only survive, but have hopes of winning more seats than in 2019.
Coming after the Labour defeat in Hartlepool, losing Batley and Spen will be another hammer blow to Starmer.
But it won’t mean a move back to the left from Labour. The party’s right will redouble their calls for even more action against the Labour left and for “progressive pacts” with Liberal Democrats and Greens.
Batley Muslims speak out—‘I want to hurt Johnson, but Labour is so bad’
Muslim voters told Socialist Worker about their disillusion with Labour.
Last week five local Muslim organisations released an open letter to Keir Starmer. It said that “after decades of supporting this party, knocking on doors, organising voter turnout drives and so much more, we are now in serious doubt over whether we can continue with our support.
“Unfortunately, it seems that while we have been proud to support the Labour Party, for a long time the Labour Party has not been proud of our support. Put simply, our votes and voices have been taken for granted.”
It added that many of the issues facing Muslims were similar to those faced by working class people across Britain.
But it added there were specific “concerns regarding the rising tide of Islamophobia, the racism inherent in the Prevent duty as well as ongoing international crises in Palestine, Kashmir, Xinjiang and beyond.”
Zahida lives in the Mount Pleasant area of Batley. She told Socialist Worker, “We have appealed to Labour to come out and be clear over Palestine and other issues. But they are clearly not with us.
“The way the issue of fake antisemitism was used to undermine support for Palestine is very fresh in our memories.”
She added, “We know that Keir Starmer will support Israel, so I cannot vote for his candidate. And it’s not just these issues. Where are the policies for our children to have a future after the pandemic? I am lucky I have a secure job, but many do not and the coronavirus has hurt us a lot.”
Manzoor, another Batley resident, says he is torn between his hatred of Boris Johnson and his anger with Labour.
“I may vote Labour just because I have seen what this government has done,” he explained. “It has continued to make Islamophobia part of British culture. I want to hurt Johnson.
“But Labour is so bad. Perhaps I will not vote at all.”
Several people said they thought former left wing MP George Galloway would grab a significant vote.
Abid told Socialist Worker, “I am going for Galloway. We know that he has been on the side of Muslims for decades and was the best MP over the illegal Iraq War. I think he will do well.”
Galloway is campaigning on his long-term anti-imperialism and support for the Palestinians. He also says that a vote for him will make sure Labour loses and Starmer is forced out.
But this is combined with a poisonous “law and order” and an “anti-woke” agenda, which serves to reinforce divisions and oppression. He provides left wing camouflage for rotten politics.
Far right figures hope to win support
It’s a disgrace and a warning that among the 16 candidates for the by-election are two fascists, and several far right figures.
They are hoping to gain from the Tories stirring up racism and division.
The list is headed by Anne Marie Waters of the fascist For Britain and Jayda Fransen, former acting leader of Britain First, now leader of the British Freedom Party.
Others standing are Therese Hirst for the English Democrats and Susan Laird of the anti-vaxx Heritage Party.
Jack Thomson for Ukip says his interest “grew a lot when Tommy Robinson became involved with the party. I had watched many of Tommy’s videos and he too was a man of principle and his incredible devotion to this day cannot be matched by anyone else.”
The fascist Robinson is reported to be coming to the constituency on 26 June to campaign.
Local Stand Up To Racism activists are organising to warn against the fascists and to protest against Robinson if he appears. The fascists cannot be allowed to gain support and confidence.
- The by-election is set for 1 July.
- It is taking place because the former Labour MP Tracy Brabin was elected Mayor of West Yorkshire last month. In 2019 she had a majority of 3,525 over the Conservatives.
- If the Tories win, it will be the first time in history that a governing party has won two by-elections in a single year from opposition parties.