Batley and Spen by-election: Why Hartlepool comparisons are wrong

England team in training

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What a summer of competition to come. Which side will put together the best performance? Who has the legs to dominate the campaign? Whose fans will be cheering at the end of it?

And then there’s the Euros.

They don’t tend to do wall charts for by-elections – but this one would be a good ‘un.

Plenty of opinion pieces have already been written on Batley and Spen, particularly after Labour’s loss in Hartlepool.

I’ve already written, said and broadcast this line a few times: “Batley is not the same as Hartlepool.”

First off, unlike Hartlepool, Batley and Spen, a collection of towns and villages close to Leeds and Bradford, has had a Conservative MP before. When the seat was created in 1983 it returned Elizabeth Peacock, who held it until the 90s caught up with the Conservatives and Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide happened.

Elizabeth Peacock

Elizabeth Peacock wasn’t afraid to challenge her own government, with strong views against the Poll Tax and closing of the pits. She’s also not sure about the phrase “red wall” that is often thrown around.

“I don’t know what it has to be to be a red wall seat. If you’re serious about it you might find some support. But it was support I knew I’d have to earn, it wouldn’t just flow because you’re standing under a political banner. I think you have to earn their trust,” she says.

The other reason Batley and Spen is a little different to Hartlepool comes when you look at the Brexit Party vote in 2019. In Hartlepool it was 25.8%. In Batley it was just 3.2%.

Without the Brexit Party in the Hartlepool by-election this year the Conservatives overturned Labour’s majority of 3,595. North Yorkshire councillor Jill Mortimer became its first ever Tory MP.

Now here comes the big but.

There might be no Brexit Party but this week’s nominations revealed that not only had Reform UK decided not to stand, but 2019’s third-place party, The Heavy Woollen Independents, had also decided not to field a candidate.

In 2019 they polled 12.2% of the vote. More than 6,000 people chose them. The party was set up in 2017 by the former chairman of UKIP’s Dewsbury, Batley and Spen branch.

So, there may not be a lot of Brexit Party votes to be redistributed – but there are 6,000 Heavy Woollen ones that have to go somewhere. With a majority of just 3,525 in Batley and Spen, that could make a heavy difference.

Tracy Brabin

This will be the fifth constituency election in six years in Batley and Spen. The murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 shocked and appalled everyone.

Former Coronation Street actor Tracy Brabin stood in the subsequent by-election, largely unopposed by the main parties.

After five years at Westminster Ms Brabin has just been elected Mayor of West Yorkshire. The Police Commissioner role that comes with the job ruled her out from staying on as an MP.

“Hartlepool is a slightly different demographic. I know that we fought for every single vote in Hartlepool and it was massively disappointing. I think Batley and Spen is a different community but I know we can win it,” she says.

Labour’s candidate is Jo Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater, who only recently joined the party. The Conservatives have chosen Ryan Stephenson, a councillor in Leeds.

The Yorkshire Party, who came third in the West Yorkshire mayoral election, have selected engineer Corey Robinson as their candidate while Wakefield councillor Tom Gordon will appear on ballot papers for the Liberal Democrats.

Aerial view of Cleckheaton

image copyrightDuncan Cuthbertson/Getty

I’d say campaigning is about to really get going now, but the truth is it did a while ago. Tracy Brabin’s victory in West Yorkshire was predicted so parties had already started planning by-election campaigns.

Boris Johnson visited a vaccination centre in Batley in February, senior Labour figures have also been in West Yorkshire a fair bit in the last few months.

Expect more.

After the Amersham by-election is over next week, the party focus will be solely on Batley and Spen.

People here sometimes feel forgotten. They know this fuss will be temporary. One of their main demands from a new MP is to stand up for them. They feel the bigger cities and towns take the limelight, money and talent away.

As much as the national narrative will be about what this by-election means for the country’s political parties and their leaders, don’t forget that people in Batley, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Birkenshaw need a new national representative.

They want to make sure they get the right person for the job. This national attention will go away as soon as the votes are counted and filed away.

They don’t want to be forgotten.

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Below is the full list of candidates for the Batley and Spen by-election (listed alphabetically by surname):

Paul Bickerdike – Christian Peoples Alliance

Mike Davies – Alliance For Green Socialism

Jayda Fransen – Independent

George Galloway – Workers Party

Tom Gordon – Liberal Democrats

Thérèse Hirst – English Democrats

Howling Laud Hope – The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Susan Laird – Heritage Party

Kim Leadbeater – Labour Party

Oliver Purser – Social Democratic Party

Corey Robinson – Yorkshire Party

Andrew Smith – Rejoin EU

Ryan Stephenson – Conservative Party

Jack Thomson – UK Independence Party

Jonathan Tilt – Freedom Alliance

Anne Marie Waters – The For Britain Movement

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