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Keir Starmer has declared Labour is “coming home”, after the party hung on to win in the Batley and Spen by-election.
Kim Leadbeater squeezed home by just 323 votes after a bitter and divisive campaign that many had predicted the party would lose.
Speaking in the West Yorkshire constituency on Friday morning, Starmer said it was a “victory of hope over division”.
“Labour is back. This is just the start. I want many more days like this. Labour is coming home,” he told party activists.
The result came as a huge relief to the beleaguered Labour leader after the party’s bruising loss in the Hartlepool by-election in May.
It was also a personal triumph for Leadbeater, whose sister, Jo Cox, represented the seat for Labour until her murder by a far-right extremist in 2016.
Afterwards an emotional Leadbeater declared: “If I can be half the MP Jo was I know I will do her proud and I will do my family proud.”
She secured the seat – which Labour held at the 2019 general election with a 3,525 majority- with 13,296 votes, narrowly beating Conservative Ryan Stephenson on 12,973.
Veteran left-winger George Galloway – who ra campaign to topple Starmer – was third with 8.264.
In her acceptance speech, Leadbeater thanked the police “who, sadly, I have needed more than ever over the last few weeks”.
It followed reported clashes between Galloway’s Workers Party and Labour supporters as they battled for votes in the constituency’s Asian communities.
At the weekend, Labour activists said they were pelted with eggs and kicked in the head, while police said an 18-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of assault in connection with an attack on canvassers.
Starmer said: “This campaign has been tough because others have poisoned it with hatred, with division and finding difference and misinformation. With lies and harassment and threats and intimidation.
“That that should have happened in Batley and Spen in all places is disgusting. That that should have happened to Kim of all people is unforgivable.
“All those who engaged in it and all those who didn’t call it out – they should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”
The result offers some breathing space to Starmer amid speculation about a possible leadership challenge in Westminster as the party continues to trail the Tories in the opinion polls.
Ahead of the contest his allies insisted he would not quit if Labour had lost, as deputy leader Angela Rayner was forced to distance herself from reports that her supporters were plotting a move against him.