Why Kim Leadbeater emerged as the people's champion in Batley and Spen

It's been a campaign like no other – handshakes, media scrums and tour buses replaced by face masks, elbow bumps and socially distanced press calls. Welcome to a by-election in the age of Covid.

I've covered a few elections in my time as a reporter, but this was my first as an editor. I was appointed to the top job at the Batley & Birstall News, Spenborough Guardian and Dewsbury Reporter series in late March, and within a few weeks of joining the team it became clear we would be in the national political spotlight.

Tracy Brabin's election as the new Mayor of West Yorkshire in early May triggered the by-election in Batley and Spen, meaning voters would have to go to the polls for the fifth time in the past six years.

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Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater celebrates by a canal in Huddersfield after winning the Batley and Spen by-election. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

On the tragic day Jo Cox was murdered back in June 2016, I was in the newsroom with colleagues at our sister papers The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post. I couldn't believe what was unfolding that afternoon.

I went to school just a few hundred yards away from where Jo was killed. A place that held so many happy childhood memories was suddenly transformed into a scene of horror.

But in the aftermath of such a tragedy, something truly remarkable happened. The community pulled together and united in a beautiful way.

The Jo Cox Foundation was created, to continue Jo's legacy and those iconic three words for which she'll always be remembered – more in common.

Millions of people around the country now take part in coffee mornings, garden parties and other community events each June as part of The Great Get Together.

A driving force behind much of this was Jo's sister, Kim Leadbeater who would go even further when the first lockdown began in March last year, supporting local food banks, ensuring vulnerable people received all the supplies they needed and helping to combat loneliness during the pandemic.

This extraordinary effort would see her receive an MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours for services to social cohesion and community.

Kim's decision to stand had stemmed from numerous people asking her and encouraging her to do so. She had represented the community of Batley and Spen so well in such challenging times, and they wanted her to be their voice again – this time in Parliament.

We heard whispers during the night that it was going to be a very close call, and so it proved.

Kim had won, but by a very slim margin of just 323 votes, continuing the recent trend of Labour holds in Batley and Spen, but with decreased majorities.

Pundits will debate the impact of the Matt Hancock scandal late in the campaign, the George Galloway effect and the ongoing discussion over the Labour leadership.

It has been a hotly contested by-election, and on occasions things have turned unsavoury. But there have been messages of hope, none more so than when hundreds of people gathered in Batley last weekend for a Stand Up To Racism rally to show the town will not be divided.

The community of Batley and Spen asked Kim to stand. And when all the votes were counted, she emerged as the people's champion.

- Dominic Brown is the editor of the Batley & Birstall News


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