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The toxic battle for Batley and Spen Politics is showing its ugly side in Jo Cox's former constituency

Not even the sweetest biscuit can make this by-election less toxic.


June 29, 2021   7 mins

Batley and Spen, the latest by-election Labour might lose, takes the narrative on from Hartlepool: from alienation to conflagration.

This constituency is a collection of towns and villages south of Leeds, known once for a thriving textile industry. Batley is the major town, made of blackened stone. It has fine Victorian buildings — as ever in the North, you see past glory — amid decline. The Fox’s biscuit factory looms like a drawing from a child’s story book. The Prime Minister, ever soothed near food, toured it last week with his candidate Ryan Stephenson, a councillor in Leeds, who is willing to be interviewed by a biscuit, but usually refuses to meet journalists.

It is self-seeking and short-sighted: a mistake. There is a vacuum to be filled because Tory and Labour are a functional absence. I come upon them only through campaigning literature on lamp posts and under foot: it floats around the constituency like tumbleweed. Party leaders come for photo opportunities so there is evidence for posterity that they exist. Press officers rarely respond, even to requests for information. So, others come to fill the void. Their complaints are superficially rational — opposition is easy — but they are here not to soothe but to ignite. George Galloway, a charismatic, wants to exploit the racism British Muslims face because major parties will not grapple with it. Laurence Fox is here too, offering support to the teacher at Batley Grammar whose use of an image of the prophet Mohammed led to protests at the school, and the teacher choosing exile from the town. It is astonishing to see Fox and Galloway on the same platform but, as self-defined mavericks, perhaps it is not so strange.

Last week, the Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater, a well-being coach and personal trainer, was harassed in the street by a Muslim anti LGTBQ activist, demanding that she condemn LGBTQ education in schools. (Leadbeater is gay.) “The colour of blood is what you are,” he said. Now she has police protection. Labour sources say Galloway supporters are repeatedly driving past the campaign office; once they crowded in to harass them. Labour activists, including Muslims, were pelted with eggs and one was beaten. In white areas, fake Labour leaflets are circulated, saying, “Labour supports taking the knee”, and “The Labour Party believes that it is high time that white people acknowledged their privilege”. Labour itself published a leaflet showing Boris Johnson shaking hands with India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the caption: “the risk of voting for anyone but Labour is clear”. Labour Friends of India asked for its withdrawal.

It is a co-incidence, or perhaps, worse, an omen, that this is the constituency whose Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in 2016 by a white supremacist outside, of all places, a public library. Leadbeater is Cox’s sister. I wonder if it is another mistake from a Labour Party that embraced centralisation, a wound that took too long to show itself: the wrong candidate in the wrong place. Many Labour supporters feel unseen by the party they once embraced as family. Is it seemly to emphasise family ties, through a woman who only joined the party this year? What happened to Jo Cox is a tragedy, but her sister’s candidacy is still morbid nepotism, and it is unpopular with some voters. It takes politics further away from them, and into someone’s else’s personal narrative. “I can’t vote for someone who jumped on a bandwagon,” says one former Labour voter, “the sister of someone quite good.”

Batley is superficially sleepy. The once bustling market has declined; the police station has gone. Most commercial activity is sucked into a vast supermarket, with the now mandatory support for a foodbank in the window. (More than a third of children live in poverty in Yorkshire, and most of them are in working families.)

Alienation is obvious as you wander Batley and Spen. The young SDP candidate Ollie Purser tells me: “The biggest demographic I meet is people who aren’t going to vote and before I can even give them a leaflet the door is shut.” I follow him as he campaigns in Birstall, an estate of red-brick houses dominated by a sign that says NO BALL GAMES, and in an area where people, according to Purser, either say, “There’s nought for kids to do”, or they else they say: “There’s too much anti-social behaviour”. The main issues here are public services — the Liberal Democrat candidate Tom Gordon says constituents are using Dentaid, a charity that usually operates in developing countries — and whether to build a new Amazon distribution centre for more air pollution and ill-paid, exhausting jobs.

“You all talk shite,” says a man when he opens the door to Purser, though genially. “I have no interest in voting whatsoever.” “Anything to do with working-class culture gets chopped up,” mourns the next, though he takes a leaflet. “I never go out,” says the next, “I’m a Mum”. As we leave two children wave from the window. “I’ve never voted in my life,” says the next potential voter, who must be 70, and Purser patiently explains the principles of a polling station to her. Even when voters do enter a polling station, Purser says, “they are always holding their nose. That’s the problem. [People] biting their lip and putting their cross next to the name because they hate the other team more”. These people are, Purser says, “dislocated. Atomised. Individualised.” As if to illustrate this point, there are two local Facebook groups dedicated to the town: Batley Matters and Batley Really Matters. Even the advocacy groups have split.

In the middle, preening calmly amid the chaos, is George Galloway, the former Labour MP fighting an Oedipal battle with the party he once loved. Though he remains the same, he changes parties more often than he changes his hat: from Labour to Respect to the “economically radical and socially conservative” Workers’ Party.

Galloway hopes to take Labour votes from the Asian community that make up 20% of the electorate here. He believes they are vexed by what they perceive as Labour’s lack of support for Palestine and lack of action on Islamophobia. One woman says her five-year nephew saw a tabloid headline, and said: “Auntie, look, we are terrorists. It says there”. This has reached a tipping point for Galloway supporters, with Palestine as the flashpoint. Shops in Batley are papered with pro-Palestine messages, and it is not, for these voters, something remote. It is, at least partially, a proxy conflict. In Palestine’s suffering they see themselves: it is a paradigm of their perceived powerlessness. One woman explains the change in dynamic: “We’re not your servants anymore.” Another woman says, “Obviously Israel own everything. It is an untouchable country.” She, though, will vote Conservative. I doubt this view is as widespread as Galloway would like.

Outside Galloway’s campaign office I find a mass of photographs of Galloway on sticks, so they look like a bus station with only one destination: a Galloway victory. I meet him in Starbucks. He is all twinkling vanity; he reminds me of Boris Johnson. Like Johnson, he likes campaigning more than governing; like Johnson, victory over the enemy is not a moral but a psychological imperative. The chase is all. If policy alone was his aim, he would add his voice to the SDP perhaps — “we respect them”, he says — or the Yorkshire Party — campaigning for devolution through its candidate Corey Robinson — or even Labour itself, prostrate but still breathing.

He speaks in perfect paragraphs, emitting campaign literature laced with memoir. Galloway does not converse, not really. He orates, mirrors, boasts. Labour is now a party of “trans-maniacs” who deplore the British voters and the British flag. Labour has, he says, no leadership. They are, rather, “a series of people sitting in circles. I remember vividly Tony Blair’s wife shouting at me to stop shouting, when in fact all I was doing was speaking clearly in the way that one does when one is making a speech. I remember it vividly even though it was more than forty years ago”. I wonder if this, at least partially, is why he is here. He has a long memory.

He also remembers a woman outing herself as a lesbian at Conference decades ago. “Everyone clapped. I remember saying to the fellow next to me, ‘Why is everyone clapping? Should I announce what I like sexually? Would they clap?’ The personal,” he mourns, “became substituted for what united all of us — whoever we slept with”. And yet here he is, effectively trying to deliver a Conservative MP to Westminster, because of who he is, and I can’t think of anything more personal.

Is he concerned about this? “I draw no distinction between Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson,” he says, “in fact Boris Johnson is better at it than Kier Starmer would be”. He compares Johnson’s campaigning in the Fox’s biscuit factory to how Starmer would do it, if he had done it: “He would have would have walked around like a robot, a desiccated calculating machine, while Boris was practically breakdancing on the factory floor”. For Galloway, Starmer’s failures are ever expanding, like space. Where they do not exist — the biscuit factory, for instance, where he did not appear and so could not fail — he imagines them.

I offer the decline of child poverty under Blair as an example of an important difference between Labour and Tory policy. “I didn’t say there was no difference,” he says, “I said I make no distinction. The difference is this,” he explains, “the Tory wears on his sleeve what he is. Labour are wolves in sheep’s clothing and it’s our job to tear away that sheep’s clothing and reveal the wolf within”. He changes his mind: “it’s not really a wolf, it’s more a jackal. The jackal within has to be exposed”. The jackal feeds on the dead. I think he is projecting.

Eventually, after multiple emails and telephone calls and knocks on campaign office doors, I do meet a Labour activist, though by accident: a white man walking his Labrador in the park. He too speaks in perfect sentences, as if the relative silence on the street is creating rhetoric straining to be heard.

“The Tories,” he says, “are hoping to win by default, and they are hoping that Mr Galloway will help deliver that for them. He’s incapable of winning the election and if he wants to play a small part in electing a Tory candidate,” – his anger is obvious, though he speaks calmly — “for a party whose leader insults Muslim women, refuses to deal with Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and will do nothing to defend the causes including that of Palestine which Mr Galloway professes to hold dear then that’s up to him”.

That night there is a hustings in a community centre with only one candidate: George Galloway. His wife videos him for posterity. Kim Leadbeater pulled out, and Galloway seems both delighted and appalled. The Yorkshire Party candidate Corey Robinson says he accepted the invitation but was not given the address, and so wandered around Batley looking for it until he gave up and went to visit his family. That is not mentioned.

The interviewer thanks Galloway, whose rhetoric rises to this tiny crisis. “It is I who should thank you,” he says, “and commiserate with you for the great insult that the Labour Party has just delivered half an hour ago”.

He says Labour’s loss will cause an earthquake to destroy its leader. “Why do I care about that?” he asks himself. It’s a good question. The answer is, he says, that the country needs an opposition and, “Britain currently doesn’t have an opposition because the Opposition Leader is no leader at all. He’s so wooden that birds are trying to nest in him. He’s so robotic he might as well be speaking through a speak-your-weight machine. His words go nowhere, move nobody, persuade nobody.”

He continues in this vein for an hour while around him, in a vacuum made of cowardice, the major parties flail, and, in Labour’s case, sink to his tactics. This is a filthy by-election, and only one man is made happy by it. It will not be enough.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

TanyaGold1

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Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
2 years ago

the teacher at Batley Grammar whose use of an image of the prophet Mohammed led to protests at the school, and the teacher choosing exile from the town”
Is that what happened? He chose exile?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago

Typical of this journalist, sorry to say.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
2 years ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Indeed!

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago

I’m American, and so unfamiliar with this series of events. Did he face death threats from adherents of the Religion of Peace? That seems to be their Standard Operating Practice..

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel

Exactly – he used an image of the prophet in a religious studies lesson. The peacefuls them barracked the school and ruined his career

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

OK, thanks.

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

His career was wrecked by the cowardice of his school and his colleagues, who didn’t defend him.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago

She could I suppose have meant exile rather than death

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
Jim Richards
Jim Richards
2 years ago

This article is worth bookmarking as a textbook example of what Orwell called ‘protective stupidity’. It is not that Tanya Gold is stupid, but she is cowardly and conformist, she knows that if she steps outside the bounds of what can be said and thought in establishment liberal circles those lucrative gigs with the Guardian and others would dry up. Therefore certain questions must not be asked and certain lines of thought must not be followed. Though there is plenty of straightforward reporting here, there are also little nuggets of Gold’s three monkeys’ ideology buried in there which ultimately make it worthless
As a couple of people have pointed out – the unfortunate teacher in Batley did not choose to go into exile, he was driven out in fear of life by a mob of violent bigots. However, Tanya follows the party line – the only reason he won’t go back to his job is because he chooses not to. I’ve no doubt this will be the line followed by the equally gutless headteacher if there is any legal comeback. What Gold has written is not precisely a lie – if someone points a gun at me and demands my wallet I will probably choose to hand it over – but it is a vile and deliberate distortion of the truth.
Perhaps an even more striking example of Gold’s indifference to the truth is her casual acceptance of the following ‘One woman says her five-year nephew saw a tabloid headline, and said: “Auntie, look, we are terrorists. It says there”. Any decent journalist would have called this out as bullsh!t, similar to little Archie’s first words being ‘Grandma Diana’
Instead we’re expected to believe that a five year old can not only read a headline, they can understand what a terrorist is and come up with the analysis that a tabloid is accusing all Muslims of terrorism. One might also ask when this headline dates from. We have mercifully, not had any major terrorist attacks recently, the only terrorism related story (which has been heavily played down) is that the people at Manchester Arena died in part because fools like Gold who screech about Islamophobia have managed to convince people who were supposed to protect the public that anyone suspecting a Muslim of not being entirely virtuous is, by definition, an Islamophobe. Still better that children are blown to pieces than that metropolitan liberals are forced to confront reality. 
Deep down, Gold knows all this, she knows that things that don’t add up and that there are grotesque inconsistencies in the narrative she promotes but like the deluded cultists in ‘When Prophecy Fails’ she has devoted her life to a set of absurd beliefs and, without them, she would have to confront the world as it is.Until she can find the strength to look at her own views with honesty and clear sightedness she will remain, like the rest of the liberal left, morally and intellectually bankrupt

Last edited 2 years ago by Jim Richards
Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

Exactly right. You can read this kind of carp in The Guardian for free.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

Carp are indeed a close cousin of the Gold fish !

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

Wonder what her background is?

Joy Bailey
Joy Bailey
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

Exactly. My immediate thought was my 5 year old grandson couldn’t read that.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

Spot on. As soon as you see the byline is that of Tanya “Comedy” Gold, you know exactly what to expect.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

Superb analysis. Gold’s article is essentially fake news.

Jim Richards
Jim Richards
2 years ago

The teacher choosing exile? Like Uighurs choosing to go into Chinese concentration camps. A cowardly and contemptible comment from a cowardly and contemptible ‘journalist’

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

Fake Labour leaflets are circulated, saying, “Labour supports taking the knee”, and “The Labour Party believes that it is high time that white people acknowledged their privilege”.

Fake but not untrue.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

LOL, indeed. How does anyone claim to know these are fake?

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago

Good Lord, I find myself agreeing with George Galloway on s*xual politics: “Why is everyone clapping? Should I announce what I like s*xually? … the personal [he mourns] became substituted for what united all of us – whoever we slept with.”

Last edited 2 years ago by Judy Englander
Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Gorgeous George often says very sensible things. It’s a strange old world

Mike K
Mike K
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Does he? LIke what?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike K

Can’t remember off hand, but he has. He sometimes shafts woke sensibilities. The Beast of Bolsover was a bit of the same.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

He’s fairly sensible on gender. But he is outside the media bubble.

Richard Sutton
Richard Sutton
2 years ago

Murdered by a white supremacist? Really? Stop regurgitating rubbish.

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago

“There’s nowt for kids to do”. Not “nought”.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

I offer the decline of child poverty under Blair as an example of an important difference between Labour and Tory policy.

Statements like this feel like hearing from an adult who still believes in Santa Claus.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It was at that point i finally stopped reading this somewhat partisan piece

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

“ In white areas, fake Labour leaflets are circulated, saying, “Labour supports taking the knee”, and “The Labour Party believes that it is high time that white people acknowledged their privilege”.

Those leaflets may be fake but the general sentiment isn’t. If Labour doesn’t expunge all “white privilege” and gender ideologies from its central platforms then that kind of thing is fair game and they will lose most of their working class constituencies.

Last edited 2 years ago by Franz Von Peppercorn
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

‘
a well-being coach and personal trainer..’ – this, and the odd fact that the Labour candidate has only been a party member for a year, must surely mean the LP have no interest whatsoever in winning this election, nor any loyalty to their own local party members. I expect this sort of ‘shite’ from the Conservatives, but it does indeed show that there is no real moral or organisational difference between our two major political parties any more.

Naren Savani
Naren Savani
2 years ago

This writer is so full of herself, that it is tedious reading her articles

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago

These people are, Purser says, “dislocated. Atomised. Individualised.”
Really? Tha understands nowt lad.

Christopher Gelber
Christopher Gelber
2 years ago

Sorry, but that Labour activist is saying disgusting things, all riding on the “Islamophobia” bandwagon in a constituency perhaps largely assumed to be driven by a bloc Muslim vote. If that reflects Labour’s view of people desperately and painfully trying to voice legitimate cultural fears, they surely deserve to lose.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

Another poundshop ‘Wigan Pier’ article. At least Orwell actually lived it or immersed himself before he put pen to paper.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Abi Dee
Abi Dee
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

and Orwell had human compassion and genuine anger not sophistry. Having said that, I think the author writes very well as an impartial observer of an absurd and tragic situation but she should check her bias if she wants to truly depict the absurd. I enjoy her writing though

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

Poor Jo Cox. She used to say that we were united by more than divides us. Everyone agrees with her and then (unlike Jo herself) does the opposite.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael James
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael James

When she was attacked, her only defender was an old white veteran, who was wounded himself.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

She’d have despised him, I imagine.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago

Tanya says ‘Palestine is a paradigm for the Muslims of Batley’s perceived helplessness . One woman says ‘we’re not your servants anymore ‘

Tanya is secretly glad about that . She’s happy that white working class cleaners are two a penny in Cornwall and there aren’t Muslim youths ogling naked female flesh on the beaches .
But wherein lies their ‘helplessness’ ? It’s the local white people who have seen their ancestral locale colonised by aggressive and hostile migrants egged on by middle class progressive Guardian journalists like Tanya

And in any comparison between the situation in Palestine and Batley she should ask herself who are the incoming settlers and who are the native inhabitants .

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago

What would Tanya prefer:
1) A party that has promoted able male and female politicians (including many of immigrant descent) to Cabinet positions of real power and influence or
2) One whose comfort zone is gender politics, race baiting, quotas and the UK’s wing of the Kashmir skirmish re-enactment society?

Last edited 2 years ago by Dustin Needle
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

The article rings true. Depressing because accurate.

Britain, depressed and aimless though it is, now is showing signs of becoming an active volcano.

Pray ! Because nothing else is going to work.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

“The article rings true.” No it doesn’t, I am sorry to say. Classic case of journalist up from the smoke looking for semi-facts to suit a pre-formed narrative.

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago

There is no doubt Jo Cox’s murderer was far right so it is a fair bet that he was a white supremacist as well.
In no way, shape or form am I a Labour supporter and I am certainly no wokeflake. However, I am perturbed at the unpleasant comments sometimes directed towards her.
As for Galloway, there is no gainsaying how objectionable and obnoxious he is, whether he makes pertinent points at times or not.
Regarding Labour, they are manifestly failing in their political and possibly constitutional duty in their abject failure to offer meaningful opposition to a government that is authoritarian, capricious as well as a prime minister who is inept, mendacious, pusillanimous and chronically indecisive. And it does seem odd to me that I have juxtaposed a premier and government in a seemingly contradictory way but that is the madness of it.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

You are as bad as Ms Gold – you make assumptions on half truths and presume no-one can use Google. Mair was mentally ill, he tried to make an appointment with a mental health expert in the days leading up to the murder, unfortunately she was fully booked. If she hadn’t been maybe Jo Cox would still be here. But Ms Cox was too busy virtue signalling to notice one of her constituents was mentally ill and about to be evicted from the council house he had always lived in with his grandmother. As he said – put Britain first, but Labour don’t and until they do they will continue to lose.

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

So it was her fault then? Got it.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

She should have been looking to help him stay in his home rather than with her husband, Irishman Brendan Cox , be always campaigning to bring in more Syrian ‘refugees’ .
So yes her brand of labour woke politics triggered a man with mental health issues about to lose his home .

She is certainly a hero in parts of Kensington and Islington but I doubt she’s unequivocally worshipped in Batley

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago
Reply to  alan Osband

1) What does the fact her husband is Irish have to do with anything?
2) I think we can safely assume that many of those responsible for Islamist atrocities have had “mental health issues” (horrible phrase by the way) and perhaps have had their own grievances. Does that excuse what they have done?
3) Her killer undoubtedly, for whatever reason, had demonstrated an obsession with far right ideas.
4) I did not share very many of Jo Cox’s views at all but equally, I do not like the timbre of some of the comments about her on here at all either. Some of those responsible are, in their own way, just as bad as anything on the wokosphere.

Last edited 2 years ago by andrew harman
alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

1) Cox supposedly had free access to Gordon Brown’s Downing St in his (and his wife’s) mission to bring the next generation of Manchester bombers to live in the UK . Would prefer he were in cahoots with his Taoiseach to bring a few plane and boatloads of ‘refugees’ to live in Ireland .We already have their ‘travellers’ to deal with , do we need their woke activists as well ? With Brendon Cox’s record of sexual misconduct/abuse not surprising he and his wife met when working for save the children and oxfam .

2)The Coxes had a mission to bring Muslim ideologues (with or without mental health issues ) to the UK .Perhaps Mrs Cox should have concentrated on her constituents

3)One man’s interest is another’s obsession. Perhaps his politics as well as his mental health issues were a reaction to his circumstances .

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago

OK, so again an entirely uncontroversial post from me that does not break any rules is visible for a few hours and is then “subject to approval” I am wondering if a certain poster has flagged mine up as simply an act of spite.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

Using an iPhone the flag up sometimes comes on unintentionally , and seems impossible to cancel . No idea if that happened to your post though . More often on other boards this happens . I have never flagged up any post on purpose