THERE are many adjectives one can use to describe George Galloway, but even his detractors admit he is a masterful campaigner.
In the past, the leader of the Workers Party of Britain has made a habit of smashing Labour majorities in Benthal Green and Bow (2005) and Bradford West (2012). With Starmer’s leadership reeling, Batley and Spen was the ideal hunting ground for Galloway to bring the Labour leader down.
The target was less ambitious this time – Galloway wasn’t aiming to reopen parliament, but he knew finishing in second place, after hoovering up disillusioned Labour voters, would inflict another defeat on Starmer.
And while he said he would “eat his hat” if he came in third place, the end result must prove to be a lesson for the centrists at the top of the Labour party.
While he has name recognition, exposing Labour’s weaker areas meant a party with little infrastructure on the ground and limited funds (relative to the major two) managed to obtain over a FIFTH of the vote.
Former leader Jeremy Corbyn was often criticised for thinking too much about the bigger picture – campaigning for Kashmir instead of focusing on Brexit or other domestic issues, for example. But – for all of Galloway’s many objectionable views – his strategy exposed the fault lines in Labour’s tentativeness.
With just under a fifth of the constituency identifying as Muslim, the Workers Party took aim at Labour’s cautious approach on Palestine and Kashmir.
Suddenly, Labour was at risk of losing a crucial demographic – 83 per cent of whom voted for Labour in 2019, according to Survation.
Galloway ended up forcing Leadbeater’s hand. Batley and Spen Labour eventually put out leaflets denouncing Narendra Modi, calling for peace in Palestine and pledging to combat Islamophobia. Even Starmer himself asked a conveniently-timed question in the Commons on a two-state solution.
It begs the question – why did Labour need to wait for a controversial firebrand like Galloway to make inroads before highlighting their ‘shared’ desire for global justice?
In the end, Labour’s Kim Leadbeater won the Batley and Spen by-election by just 323 votes – it would have been one less had she not been the only candidate in the field of 16 to actaully live in the constituency.
While Starmer may be maligned by voters across the UK (and the Tories are likely to take the seat at a General Election), sorting out potholes and knowing the ins and outs of the area do matter to many during a by-election.
But it appears Leadbeater and hundreds of Labour activists won in spite of Starmer, rather than due to him.
She twice refused to comment on whether Starmer was an asset in the by-election this morning, telling the BBC: “The focus of the campaign was very much listening to local people and speaking to local people and sometimes national issues came up, but I have to be honest, the vast majority of conversations were about very local issues.
“I think, like I say, most of the conversations weren’t about the Labour leadership, most of the conversations were about people’s day to day lives. I think that’s probably all I can say really.”
It’s telling that Leadbeater’s campaign leaflets often failed to mention the party or its leader.
It’s also likely the ‘Hancock’ event saved Starmer – like the Dominic Cummings scandal before him, news (and unfortunately, videos) of the affair cut through, eroding the Tory lead at a crucial time in the by-election race.
Despite the victory for Labour, the past few weeks must show the leadership that they cannot take certain voting blocs for granted.
A Survation poll showed that Muslim voters who backed Labour in 2019 now have a net negative view of the leadership.
The Red Wall may have crumbled in 2019 – with the youth vote declining after Starmer took over – but the ‘Muslim’ wall will soon follow if things don’t radically change.
Sir Keir has survived for now, but the Batley and Spen by-election was a further indicator that Labour’s shrinking coalition is on the verge of collapse.
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