The 'good guys' won in Batley and Spen, says new Labour MP Kim Leadbeater
Kim Leadbeater is sworn in as new MP for Batley and Spen, 5 July 2021 | ©UK Parliament_Jessica Taylor
Recently elected Labour MP, Kim Leadbeater, says the “good guys” won in Batley and Spen last week, following an ugly by-election campaign marked by dirty tricks, homophobia and personal intimidation.
Describing the campaign as an “intense” few weeks – during which eggs were thrown at local Labour Party activists, and an arrest was made after one person was allegedly assaulted – she says her subsequent win felt like “a victory of hope over division”.
Leadbeater – whose sister Jo Cox had held the seat for the Labour Party from 2015 to 16 until her murder by a far-right terrorist five years ago – says it was important for the next generation to witness her victory over the “toxic” politics she had personally faced in recent weeks: “We need young women to feel confident to enter politics; if you see that, why would anyone put themselves through that? We’ve got to show sometimes that the good guys do win.”
The by-election was triggered after the sitting Labour MP, Tracy Brabin, stood down on becoming the first mayor of West Yorkshire last month.
A personal trainer and wellbeing consultant by profession, Leadbeater says: “I’m not afraid to work hard, I have got bags of energy, but what we saw sadly during the by-election was some real nastiness. As far as I’m concerned there is no place for that toxicity in our politics.
“Having campaigned through the [Jo Cox] Foundation through the past few years about how we can improve civility in public life, and how we can make it a safe place for everyone – but particularly for women – having been subjected to some of the abuse and intimidation that I was subjected to during the campaign, it’s clear evidence that there is a lot more work to be done.”
And it’s absolutely fine to have “robust political, passionate debate,” Leadbeater says, describing that as a “cornerstone” of democracy: “But when it descends to some of the stuff we saw, it was really disgusting. And I hope that everyone across the political spectrum takes lessons from that – we all have to accept that’s just unacceptable.”
Sworn in four days after her narrow victory of 323 votes, Leadbeater says that although the ceremony was emotional, it held no surprises: “I have watched an awful lot of Parliament TV. When Jo became an MP, I used to watch it all the time, so I knew a little of what to expect but it was very emotional and very moving – particularly as Jo’s children came to watch.”
I am very realistic that I’ve got a lot to learn
Leadbeater, who has lived in the constituency all of her life, lives with her partner Claire and was awarded an MBE for her work to combat social isolation in 2020. With a lot of information “to take in,” Leadbeater says her short term aims are to get a “good staff team” in place and think about her constituency priorities “because what I have to do now is show the people of Batley and Spen that voted for me that I will deliver all my promises”.
Leadbeater, whose selection as the Labour candidate raised some concerns over her political inexperience, says she has spent her first few days in Westminster having conversations with “experienced” MPs and taking advice. “I am very realistic that I’ve got a lot to learn and, for me, the way to do that is to have conversations with people who have been doing the job for a long time, and maybe learn from some of their mistakes,” she says.
The three weeks before summer recess are an opportunity, she says, “to find my feet” and weigh things up. Her main problem, Leadbeater says, is that she is interested in so many things “it’s really hard to know what to focus on, so that’s something that I am thinking a lot about at the moment”.
A former lecturer in physical activity, health and wellbeing at Bradford FE College, Leadbeater says she is passionate about education, improving opportunities for young people, and the role of physical activity in health and wellbeing.
But, she says, the issue that came up most on the doorstep during the by-election, was the “massive concern” with anti-social behaviour “which sadly we seem to have seen a growth in locally because of the lockdown and pandemic”.
With her background as an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation, Leadbeater says the issue of building strong communities is an important one to her, and that she would like to continue with her work on loneliness through the foundation.
“What we need to do more shouting about across politics is the cross-party work that goes on,” she says, adding that it often doesn’t get the media coverage that it deserves because it is not “always as exciting as some of the more divisive subjects”.
Leadbeater says she has been speaking with people who work on select committees about how they work together to get things done. “That for me is a huge part of what Parliament is about and should be about,” she says. “I would definitely like to get involved in a select committee going forward.”
Paying tribute to those who came out to help her during the campaign, Leadbeater says the support she had during the by-election – including local people, Labour Party activists and MPs, apolitical friends and family – was “second to none”. “It was a huge team effort to keep the seat…That sense of togetherness that we saw is something that we need to build on as a community. We also need to build on the lessons from that within the Labour Party and also more broadly across politics,” she says.
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