Labour's narrow win in Batley and Spen by-election is actually a sign of Boris Johnson's dominance in England – Kenny MacAskill MP

It wasn’t shrieks of joy from Labour when they sneaked home last week in Batley and Spen, but sobs of relief.

Kim Leadbeater, sister of the murdered MP Jo Cox, and Labour leader Keir Starmer celebrate her narrow victory in the Batley and Spen by-election as her mother Jean Leadbeater looks on (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Kim Leadbeater, sister of the murdered MP Jo Cox, and Labour leader Keir Starmer celebrate her narrow victory in the Batley and Spen by-election as her mother Jean Leadbeater looks on (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

What’s being portrayed as some historic victory that now provides the platform for a Labour election victory is arrant nonsense. It’s actually a Pyrrhic victory, one that simply prolongs the moment before they have address just what they’re for, as Tory hegemony continues despite losses there and in Chesham and Amersham to the Lib Dems.

For it has to be remembered that Batley and Spen was a Labour seat. It had a comfortable majority even in 2019, and an overwhelming one in 2017. Had the Tories added this seat to their victory in Hartlepool, it would have been the first time since 1929 that a government had won two by-elections in a row from the official opposition.

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It was also an election where the victor Kim Leadbetter downplayed her party colours. Already having a profile as the sister of tragically slain Jo Cox MP, her campaign was all about returning the “local lass” and nothing to do with voting Labour. The timing also couldn’t have been better for Labour with Matt Hancock resigning and the spectre of Tory sleaze and incompetence again to the fore.

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Yet still they only sneaked back by just over 300 votes. Thousands deserted them, especially amongst the Muslim community and, all in all, it was a lacklustre performance that bodes ill more generally for the party.

Starmer survives but he’d surely have been gone had they lost. However, just who would have replaced him is questionable and, more importantly, whether they could do any better, without deep-rooted radical reform.

For what is Starmerism, other than not being the Tories? Radicalism’s gone, indeed it’s positively forsworn. Sections that once dutifully voted Labour, from union members to the Muslim community, are drifting away, dissatisfied at being expected to just endorse anything on the basis that the alternative’s worse.

For many, as in Scotland, that simply wasn’t good enough and for others hope’s lost and what’s the point of even voting? Labour’s doomed unless it rediscovers its radical soul.

Kenny MacAskill is the Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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