LBC Views: The Batley and Spen by-election could be the end of Starmer

24 June 2021, 16:18

Theo Usherwood gives his LBC View
Theo Usherwood gives his LBC View. Picture: LBC
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

LBC's Political Editor Theo Usherwood looks at some of the issues facing Labour in the Batley and Spen by-election.

The Batley and Spen by-election could well spell the beginning of the end for Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party.

A week out from polling day, and the numbers are looking grim for his party’s candidate Kim Leadbeater.

Defending a majority of just north of 3,500, the sister of the murdered MP Jo Cox is facing a squeeze from the Tories on one side and then from George Galloway on the other.

Mr Galloway’s prominence in this election – and particularly his appeal to Muslim voters in the constituency – means that he could well split Labour’s vote hand the seat to the Conservatives.

If that happens, and given what happened in last month’s by-election, that would be a disaster for Sir Keir.

In the immediate aftermath of the Hartlepool horror show, his supporters immediately doubled down on the strategy to win back Red Wall voters his party had lost to the Tories in the 2019 election.

But when it came to the reshuffle, the Labour leader suddenly found himself exposed as he sacked Angela Rayner from one job, only to be forced to give her another three in a move seen as necessary to placate the party’s deputy leader.

At the time, one line of defence for Keir Starmer was that we were living through extraordinary times; the pandemic had made it very hard to campaign effectively and the Conservative Government, inevitably, was able to dominate the agenda.

That argument however was blown apart last week when the Lib Dems won Chesham and Amersham, a seat the Tories had held since it was formed in 1974.

The new Lib Dem MP Sarah Green was accused of nimbyism as she focused on local issues in her campaign: housing in a constituency that sits in the one of the most beautiful parts of the Home Counties, and the HS2 railway line that is currently being built through the Chilterns.

Nimbyism it might have been.

But the lesson for Labour is perhaps that local issues, rather than national, or international ones, can win by-elections.