Batley and Spen by-election turns nasty ahead of Thursday vote

Batley and Spen by-election turns nasty with fake Labour leaflets sent out promoting Keir Starmer’s support for Black Lives Matter in crude attempt to alienate white voters – as thugs assault party activist and hurl eggs

  • Voters will go to the polls on Thursday after former MP quit to be local mayor 
  • Fake leaflet says Labour proud to be ‘woke’ and support BLM ‘taking the knee’
  • Party activists also attacked and pelted with eggs at the weekend
  • But Labour faces questions over leaflet attacking PM over Indian PM Modi 

The battle to win a key northern Labour seat turned increasingly nasty today amid attacks on party activists and fake documents being circulated to undermine rival parties.

Voters will go to the polls on Thursday in Batley & Spen after a campaign that has been dogged by accusations of racism and foul play in an area with a multi-cultural population.

Labour lashed out today over a fake leaflet proporting to have been released by the TUC highlighting party leader Keir Starmer’s support for Black Lives Matter in a bid to hit his popularity among working class white voters. 

The TUC said it was part of a ‘dirty tricks campaign’ and  those responsible ‘should be ashamed of themselves’.

Labour’s former MP in the seat, Tracey Brabin, who quit after being elected mayor of West Yorkshire, also claimed last night that activists had been pelted with eggs and kicked in the head while on the campaign trail.

However, Labour itself was under pressure today after an leaflet circulated critical of Boris Johnson’s diplomatic dealings with Indian president Narendra Modi – a Hindu nationalist – in an area with a sizable Muslim population. 

Labour lashed out today over a fake leaflet proporting to have been released by the TUC highlighting party leader Keir Starmer’s support for Black Lives Matter in a bid to hit his popularity among working class white voters.

Kim Leadbeater is standing for Labour in Batley & Spen. Her sister Jo Cox represented the area before she was murdered by a white supremacist terrorist in 2016

Supporters of hard Left former MP George Galloway were accused last week of using the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas in Palestine – and the Jewish heritage of Sir Keir’s wife – to attack Labour. He denies all knowledge.

However, Labour itself was under pressure today after it circulated a leaflet critical of Boris Johnson’s diplomatic dealings with Indian president Narendra Modi – a Hindu nationalist – in an area with a sizable Muslim population

Boris says area wants ‘positive change’ 

Boris Johnson has insisted that voters in Batley and Spen are focused on “a positive change” in the area rather than the row surrounding former health secretary Matt Hancock.

The Prime Minister visited the West Yorkshire constituency on Monday ahead of Thursday’s by-election, with bookies backing the Conservatives to take the lead in the forthcoming poll.

Mr Johnson was asked if Mr Hancock had “derailed” the campaign, after the former health secretary was pictured breaking social distancing guidelines to combat coronavirus by intimately embracing aide Gina Coladangelo.

Tory MPs and ministers will have been eyeing the by-election amid the fallout surrounding Mr Hancock, who quit on Saturday and was replaced by Sajid Javid.

The Prime Minister told reporters during a visit to Johnstone’s Paints Limited in Batley: “I read about that story on the Friday, and we had a new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on Saturday.

“I think what people are focused on, I know what people on the doorsteps are saying, what Ryan (Stephenson, Tory candidate) is saying, is that we want to have a positive change in Batley and Spen.

“And we see the opportunity, now that we’re coming towards the end of the pandemic, as we get all the jabs in, we see an opportunity for a jobs-led recovery here in Batley and Spen and across the whole country.”

He said that the party’s contender, Leeds councillor Ryan Stephenson, was a “fantastic local candidate” who was “passionate” about the area he hopes will become his constituency.

 

It all broke after supporters of hard Left former MP George Galloway, who is also standing in the election, were accused last week of using the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas in Palestine – and the Jewish heritage of Sir Keir’s wife – to attack Labour. 

And last Friday, Sir Keir condemned as ‘disgraceful’ the abuse Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater faced while campaigning.

Ms Leadbeater, the sister of former MP Jo Cox who was murdered in the constituency in 2016, was confronted by a man who challenged her over the situation in Kashmir and her stance on LGBT+ education in schools amid what he said were concerns from Muslim parents.

The Tories believe they are in a strong position to take the seat, which would heap more pressure on Sir Keir to step down or face a leadership challenge. 

Ms Brabin said she was leafleting with ‘colleagues, volunteers, campaigners’ in Batley on Sunday when they ‘were followed, verbally abused and physically assaulted by a group of young men’.

She said: ‘The group I was with included young people and the elderly.  I witnessed them being egged, pushed and forced to the ground and kicked in the head.’

West Yorkshire Police confirmed on Sunday evening that they were investigating, and Ms Brabin – who also holds the police and crime commissioner responsibility for the region – praised officers for their swift response.

But she added: ‘We know why tensions are rising in our streets. Those who want to sow division are not welcome in our community.

‘The actions of these people do not represent the Batley and Spen I know. We are kinder than this.’

Labour MP for Halifax Holly Lynch added: ‘There has been a series of increasingly serious and violent attacks in recent days and this is absolutely unacceptable.

‘Lawless thugs are seeking to intimidate and attack those involved in the proper democratic process.’ 

In a video that circulated online on Friday, Ms Leadbeater was seen to ask the man not to shout at her, before turning away and being pursued and heckled by a group.

In the video, he raises his voice at Ms Leadbeater, who responds by repeatedly asking why he would shout at her in the street. 

Ms Leadbeater then leaves and is pursued by a group to a car.

She later alleged that opponent and former MP George Galloway, who is standing for his Workers Party, had been ‘laughing’ nearby.

Mr Galloway said it was a ‘false statement’ and, asked whether he would condemn the behaviour, he replied: ‘Absolutely.’

But shadow crime reduction minister Ms Lynch said on Sunday: ‘George Galloway’s campaign has created a toxic environment that is suffocating democracy and drowning out the voices of local people.’

Labour was itself criticised today over a leaflet that went out referencing Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi.

Tory MP Richard Holden said: ‘Would Keir Starmer not meet Narendra Modi? Labour are, again, playing the identity politics they have a go at George Galloway for.’

The sister of murdered MP Jo Cox was heckled and chased by Muslim protesters over her support for LGBT rights as she campaigned to become the next MP in her sister’s old seat

Kim Leadbeater (pictured above with Labour leader Keir Starmer), 45, is standing as the Labour candidate in next Thursday’s by-election in Batley & Spen. The poll was triggered by incumbent Tracy Brabin’s decision to stand down to become the new mayor of West Yorkshire 

Tensions have been rising in the race – where voters go to the polls on Thursday – which has a total of 16 candidates but is seen as a two-party battle between Labour and the Conservatives.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – also known as Tommy Robinson – was reported to be visiting the seat for a rally on Saturday, prompting counter-demonstrations.

But Mr Yaxley-Lennon did not turn up and West Yorkshire Police said that despite around 400 people gathering, demonstrations passed mostly without incident.

A total of three arrests were made – two for public order offences and a man was also arrested for possession of an offensive weapon.

Officers also assisted two people who are believed to have suffered medical episodes.

Assistant Chief Constable Scott Bisset, who led the policing operation, said: ‘Our overall aim was to ensure that the demonstrations remained peaceful and were effectively managed, so that the wider public were able to go about their business unaffected.’

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