Labours last chance: If they cant win Batley election where can they win? asks expert

Jo Cox's sister Kim Leadbeater named Labour candidate

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However, Professor Tony Travers said even if the party is defeated, Sir Keir Starmer was likely to “cling on” – because the party finds it so difficult to get rid of unsuccessful leaders. Kim Leadbeater, Jo’s younger sister, will contest the Yorkshire constituency on July 1, with Labour facing an uphill struggle to regain the seat won by Tracey Brabin by just 3,525 votes in 2019.

The by-election is already being talked up as a crucial test for Sir Keir, who is already reeling after a damaging defeat in last month’s Hartlepool by-election.

To complicate matters still further, former Labour MP George Galloway has also thrown his hat into the ring in what he is characterising a direct challenge to Sir Keir’s leadership.

Asked whether the election was crucial for Sir Keir, Prof Travers, the director of LSE London, told “No question, it really is.

“Labour’s come up with from their point of view, the best possible candidate, Jo Cox’s sister and I think that makes them feel more comfortable.

“They might hold it with her as a candidate but if Galloway stands does that fragment the Labour vote?

Speaking of Ms Leadbeater, 45, Prof Travers added: “She is the ideal candidate for the Labour Party and if they can’t win with her as a candidate, it will be said, what can they win, north of Coventry really?

“Having said that, on the other side of that kind of argument is that with George Galloway setting himself up, literally to take on Keir Starmer on some level, if you imagine Labour loses by 30 votes and George Galloway wins a thousand votes, it might make them feel the morning after, ‘Oh well it’s only because of Galloway’.”

“So it it kind of works the other way too – but any way you look at it, given Labour has been out of power for more than 11 years and we are talking about losing a relatively safe seat in Yorkshire, is pretty dismal for the Labour Party.”

As for Mr Starmer’s long-term leadership prospects, Prof Travers said: “He’s only been leader for just over a year and a quarter.

“Labour finds it very hard to get leaders, till they volunteer to go.

“So, I think he might cling on and from a Conservative point of view, they might be quite happy with that.”

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The Tories currently did not regard Sir Keir as a threat, Prof Travers explained, although privately they saw him as a “huge improvement” on his predecessor.

Prof Travers said: “If he were prime minister the Conservatives now concede that unlike Jeremy Corbyn, having Sir Keir Starmer would not be, in the Conservatives’ terms, a disaster in the way that they believe having Jeremy Corbyn would have been a disaster.

“Having said that, Sir Keir has not had the cut-through that he needs against Boris Johnson.

“All the way through Labour’s time, really. they are much softer at heart than the Conservatives.

“The Conservatives are harder of heart and dump leaders and then restart.

“If Boris looks like a loser they will dump him and go for somebody else.”

Jo Cox’s brutal murder by Nazi extremist Thomas Nair in broad daylight while campaigning for Remain in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum shocked the nation.

Explaining her reasons for standing, the former personal trainer, who has also worked as an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation, said: “I’m a proud Yorkshirewoman and have lived in Batley and Spen all my life. I have a deep understanding of the area, its people and some of the challenges it faces.

“I feel passionately about the strength there is in such a diverse constituency.”

However, she conceded: “Nobody should be in any doubt about the scale of the task we have to keep Batley and Spen Labour.”

Welcoming her candidacy, Sir Keir himself said: “Batley and Spen holds an important place in the Labour Party’s heart.

“And Kim’s work to bring people together, just as her sister Jo Cox did, has inspired us all.”

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