The Batley and Spen by-election was set to deliver a shock this week. But it wasn't clear what the shock would be.
Labour is in such disarray under Keir Starmer’s leadership, it would be a surprise if the party holds on to the seat it won with a 3,525 majority in 2019.
The Tories hoped to repeat the trick in Hartlepool and be able to persuade enough voters they are on their side.
Their candidate Ryan Stephenson has been campaigning on, “More police, more jobs, more investment”. It’s a blatant pitch that constituencies with Tory MPs are favoured for government investment.
Perhaps the furore around former health secretary Matt Hancock could remind enough people of the Tories’ appalling record and shift some votes.
Acceptance of Labour’s decline is so commonplace that it’s possible to underplay how extraordinary a Tory win would be. Labour has held the seat in West Yorkshire for 24 years.
The former MP Jo Cox was murdered by a fascist in 2016 and her sister is standing as Labour's candidate now. It ought to be a very easy win.
A loss would be utterly damning of Starmer’s uselessness and the wider crisis of Labour. One opinion poll in Batley and Spen last week showed the Tories on 47 percent, Labour on 41 percent and former MP George Galloway on 6 percent.
But Galloway’s support was expected to have risen since then. And his voters will come mainly from people who previously voted Labour.
Batley resident Rayan told Socialist Worker, “I meet a lot of people who are going to vote Galloway. He is very clear about Palestine and issues of Islamophobia.
“Lots of Muslims I talk to are not happy with Keir Starmer.
“They also do not like it that Labour’s candidate was quickly chosen and two councillors, who have been around for a long time in Labour, were pushed aside.”
Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater was forced to acknowledge Galloway’s threat. She said he had “focused very heavily on the horrific situation in Palestine—and let’s be clear, it is a horrific situation”.
Starmer took a different line. After Leadbeater was shouted at by an anti-LGBT+ activist from Birmingham while campaigning, he tweeted, “George Galloway’s poisonous politics have no place in our country. The abuse Kim Leadbeater has faced is disgraceful.”
However, there was no evidence offered that Galloway was linked to what happened.
Zahida lives in the Mount Pleasant area of Batley. She told Socialist Worker, “I think a lot of issues are coming together. I don’t have trust in any of the politicians. They have all failed us. Perhaps a change might make a difference.
“We have been let down as Muslims but many other people have been let down too.”
There is a huge gulf left by Labour's shift to the right and its lack of opposition to the Tories. Galloway may have tapped some of that. But he isn’t the answer. His anti-imperialism is mixed with a conscious pitch to what he calls “socially and culturally conservative politics”.
He has called for parental control of what children are taught in schools. That’s seeking support from those who don’t want LGBT+ inclusive relationship and sex education in schools.
It also chimes with people who were rightly angry when a Batley Grammar School teacher showed an Islamophobic cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in a religious studies class.
Galloway says that during the last 40 years Labour has become the party of identity politics and the “ethnic minority”.
Any success he has will boost the idea that Labour has to become more “anti-woke”. And that’s a recipe for conceding further to the Tories on issues such as racism.
Alan, a Batley resident, says, “I will probably still vote Labour. I don’t want to see smiling Tories.
“But what I do know is that after 1 July we will promptly be forgotten by the media and pretty much all the politicians too."