Diane Abbott: Batley and Spen by-election loss 'would be curtains' for Starmer

20 May 2021, 06:08 | Updated: 20 May 2021, 08:27

Diane Abbott said she thinks Sir Keir Starmer's leadership could end if Labour loses the by-election
Diane Abbott said she thinks Sir Keir Starmer's leadership could end if Labour loses the by-election. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Labour losing the Batley and Spen by-election in the summer would "surely be curtains" for Sir Keir Starmer, Diane Abbott has said.

The former shadow home secretary used an article in the Guardian to claim the Labour Party leader could be ousted if he fails to hold on to the West Yorkshire seat this summer.

Sir Keir is facing increasing pressure following his party's loss in the Hartlepool by-election after Boris Johnson's Conservatives took another brick out of the so-called "red wall".

However, Ms Abbott - an ally of left-wing former party leader Jeremy Corbyn - said Batley and Spen has different demographics to Hartlepool, which could prove to be Sir Keir's saving grace.

"Support from the large minority ethnic electorate may enable the party to hold the seat and Starmer to hang on as Labour leader," the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP said.

"But if Labour loses again, it must surely be curtains for him."

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The former shadow home secretary talked up the chances of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham succeeding Sir Keir, who has been in charge since April 2020, saying another Labour defeat could mean his "time will have come".

Mr Burnham, a former health secretary, has refused to deny suggestions he could try securing the party leadership for a third time, having lost in 2010 and 2015.

It comes as the Tories announced their candidate for the West Yorkshire constituency's by-election will be Leeds councillor Ryan Stephenson, chairman of the region's Conservatives.

The seat - held by Labour since Tony Blair won power in 1997 - is up for grabs after former MP Tracey Brabin stepped aside following her election as the first mayor of West Yorkshire.

Labour members will select a candidate by Sunday once the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) draws up a shortlist, with applications now open for the candidacy.

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It has not yet been announced when the by-election will be held, but there is speculation that late July is under consideration.

Speaking during a visit to a bus factory in North Yorkshire with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Ms Brabin said she would "move heaven and earth" to make sure Labour won the race.

Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered former Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox, has announced she will be putting her name forward.

Ms Brabin said: "I'm determined that we're going to keep Batley and Spen Labour.

"Kim is an exceptional woman but there's other candidates, as is my understanding, so it will be down to the constituency Labour Party to make that choice.

"But, to be honest, whoever is the candidate, I'll move heaven and earth to make sure we keep Batley and Spen Labour and I think we'll do it."

Ms Leadbeater, who established the Jo Cox Foundation in honour of her sister, said she would take her "more in common" message into the campaign if selected by Labour.

She told the Spenborough Guardian: "Anyone who knows me or has met me knows that I'm very much my own person. I'm not Jo.

"I've got my own views, my own priorities, my own ideas and dreams for the future of this area."

Others rumoured to be interested in standing include Paula Sherriff, the former Labour MP for Dewsbury.

It is understood the selection could have been carried out sooner, but the chaos surrounding the sacking of Angela Rayner as party chairman is thought to have slightly delayed the process.