'I've Never Seen Anything Like This Before': Labour Activists Face Unprecedented Intimidation In Batley
Labour campaigners in Batley & Spen say the intimidation they are facing in the days leading up to polling day on Thursday is like unlike anything they've ever experienced.
One senior campaign source with years of election experience described the situation in the West Yorkshire seat as "something different" to previous polls.
"I've never seen anything like this before," they said.
The contest in Batley & Spen, widely seen as a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives, has become increasingly ugly in recent weeks, with Labour accusing supporters of hard-left candidate George Galloway of deliberately inflaming tensions in the seat and creating a hostile atmosphere on the streets.
Multiple Labour activists who spoke to PoliticsHome on Monday reported feeling scared while campaigning in the constituency over the last few days, with one being compelled to remove their Labour sticker while walking alone.
The contest took a sinister turn over the weekend when Tracy Brabin, the newly-elected mayor of West Yorkshire whose recent election triggered the by-election in Batley & Spen, said Labour colleagues and volunteers had been egged, forced to the ground, and kicked in the head by a group of young men. West Yorkshire Police said on Sunday they were investigating the incident.
The incident followed footage captured on Friday showing Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater, sister of the seat's former Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered in the area by a far-right terrorist, being shouted at by a man who accused her of supporting "LGBT indoctrination in schools".
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the treatment of Leadbeater was "disgraceful".
One local campaigner PoliticsHome spoke to on Monday said there had been "a significant escalation over the last few days" and that they were having second thoughts about their plans to knock on doors before Thursdays vote.
"It's crazy. People are feeling really scared," they said. "Particularly since Kim was ambushed by the anti-LGBT campaigner. It seems to have been the catalyst for people to say/do what they like".
The senior campaign source said supporters of Galloway tore down Labour posters this morning and shouted at Labour voters who tried to put them back up.
"The intimidation is open, brazen and shameless now," they said.Galloway's candidacy has presented an almighty headache for Labour, with the firebrand's strongly pro-Palestine views expected to win the support of a signicant number of Muslim voters who in previous years have backed Labour.
The decision of pro-Brexit independent Paul Halloran to not stand this time around is also expected to hurt Labour.
Halloran, who told PoliticsHome he was a "small-c conservative," won nearly 6,500 votes at the 2019 general election and most of those votes are expected to go to Conservative candidate Ryan Stephenson this time around.
A Survation poll published two weeks ago put Labour six points behind the Tories in Batley & Spen.
Defeat for Labour would represent another crushing blow to Starmer after the party was trampled by Boris Johnson's Conservatives at the Hartlepool by-election in May.
The Times over the weekend reported that Starmer could face a leadership challenge if Labour loses in Batley & Spen.
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