Community divisions being stoked by outsiders in Batley by-election, says Jo Cox’s sister and Labour candidate

·3 min read
Kim Leadbeater (right) campaigning in Batley with shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy (Getty)
Kim Leadbeater (right) campaigning in Batley with shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy (Getty)

Community divisions are being sown into the Batley by-election by people from outside the area, the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox – and Labour’s contender for the seat – has suggested.

Kim Leadbeater hit out at candidates who she said would only “cause problems for our community” in what appeared to be a swipe at rival George Galloway.

The firebrand Scot, who is contesting the West Yorkshire seat despite living hundreds of miles away, has been accused of weaponising local anger over Israel’s bombing of Palestine to suggest that, under Sir Keir Starmer, Labour does not care about supposed Muslim priorities.

One poster outside his campaign headquarters also insinuates that Batley receives less investment from the local authority, Kirklees Council, than neighbouring towns, a suggestion which appears baseless.

Speaking to The Independent while on the campaign trail, Ms Leadbeater said: “I think sadly there are a number of people who are going to come here and try and sow division and cause problems for our community, and actually this area needs an MP who can bring people together.

“And on the back of the work I’ve done over the last few years, I think I’m that person. We need to build bridges, not cause division.”

The 45-year-old, who is the only one of the 16 runners who actually lives in the constituency, added: “Lots of people are going to come here in the next couple of weeks and they will have their own agendas and own egos but this isn’t about them. It’s about local people and who they think the best person to represent them in parliament is.”

Her words come five years to the week after her sister, Ms Cox, was stabbed and shot to death by a right-wing terrorist on the streets of the town.

“I think about Jo every day and have done for the past five years so, of course, this [running in her old seat] is emotional and it’s difficult,” she added. “I’m incredibly proud to be Jo Cox’s sister but it’s also important I get in on the merits of being Kim Leadbeater.”

The by-election was called after former Labour MP Tracy Brabin had to stand down from the seat in May when she was elected to the new post of mayor of West Yorkshire.

Although the constituency is not exactly part of the so-called “red wall” – it was Tory for 14 years up until 1997 – losing it would be seen as a massive blow to Sir Keir’s leadership, coming less than two months after the humiliating defeat in the Hartlepool by-election and on the back of Labour racking up just 1.6 per cent of the vote in this week’s Chesham and Amersham by-election.

While it is thought Mr Galloway is unlikely to win the seat, it looks increasingly plausible that he could take enough votes – most likely from Labour – to make a significant difference in the 1 July vote.

Neither Mr Galloway, standing for his own Workers Party of Britain, nor Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson responded to The Independent’s request for an interview.

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