Published:

  • With George Galloway set to take votes from Labour, and the non-standing Heavy Woolen District Independents expected to shed votes to the Conservatives, the latter seemed set to win.
  • Boris Johnson’s leadership would be strengthened and Keir Starmer’s weakened: the result might even mark the beginning of the end for the Labour leader.  None of this happened. Why?
  • Let’s start with Galloway.  He came third with 8000 or so votes, 22 per cent of the whole.  That’s a strong performance – though less than the 12,000 votes and second place that some thought he might gain.
  • But since Galloway didn’t achieve his goal – namely, to hand the by-election to the Tories if he couldn’t win himself – it’s apparent from Labour’s victory that there was a reaction against him as well as for him.
  • Or, rather, against the communalist politics which is now his mainstay.  (We await the post-election analysis, but his parallel attempt to win white working-class votes seems to have flopped.)
  • Labour will have been assisted less by Keir Starmer’s leadership, we suspect, than by its by-election candidate, Kim Leadbeater – the sister of the murdered former MP, Jo Cox.
  • How much her local, apolitical background; a reaction against the decidedly non-local Galloway, or the honouring of Cox’s memory counted will never be known.  All will have had an impact.
  • Labour’s performance wasn’t strong – its vote was down by over seven per cent – but it’s winning that counts – at least in the eyes of the Westminster Village.  (Andrew Gimson saw the result coming.)
  • So Starmer now has breathing space, unless there is some unexpected development, until after Labour’s Party Conference in the autumn at least.
  • The Conservative performance was poor relative to expectation.  However, the party’s share of the vote was all but static, falling by less than two per cent.
  • This reinforces a picture – despite the lower turnout than at the general election, which hit both the main parties – of the Tory performance holding up in pro-Leave England (the seat voted 60 per cent Leave).
  • Having said that, the result suggests that there was no shift from the Heavy Woolen Independents to the Conservatives of the kind that there seems to have been from the Brexit Party recently in Hartlepool.
  • Tories this morning will be talking less about the swing to the party in the seat than the factor which may have lost them this close contest – a bungled Get Out The Vote operation.
  • Mark Wallace was tweeting about it overnight during his night shift covering the by-election on Sky.  This is the second by-election in a row in which the Conservative campaign operation hasn’t run smoothly.
  • The superiority of Labour’s ground campaign has been a feature of at least two of the last four general elections.  We have been warned.
  • Talking of other by-elections, this was no Chesham and Amersham for the Liberal Democrats.  They won some three per cent of the vote.
  • Pundits like to draw big conclusions from by-elections that throw up unexpected results.  In the case of  Batley and Spen, we believe that these are best avoided, because this contest was so unusual.
  • The seat has had five parliamentary elections in five years.  An MP has been murdered.  Another pushed off to become Mayor of West Yorkshire.
  • The new MP is the sister of the assassinated last but one, and wasn’t even a Labour member until recently.  Galloway’s candidacy was a wild card.
  • And as Mark points out, the absence of a Green candidate may have made all the difference in such a close contest.  Then there is the Matt Hancock factor.
  • Maybe Batley and Spen shows that Labour has seen off Galloway’s communalist politics.  But perhaps some crisis abroad will blow wind back into his sails.
  • And, in any event, Labour’s campaign leaflet attacking India’s Prime Minister suggests that Labour has not so much seen off Galloway as followed his example – which is ominous.
  • Perhaps the Tory position in the provinces has reached its post-Brexit peak; maybe there’s a lesson for Labour in Leadbeater’s win: embrace local causes, nourish local roots.  We simply don’t know.
  • One thing is certain: none of the campaigns seem to have been of use to the teacher who showed a cartoon of Mohammed to pupils in Batley Grammar School, and who now fears to return to his post.