NO ONE outside her constituency of Batley and Spen had heard of Jo Cox before she was gunned down by a lunatic with a Nazi fetish. Her ‘more in common . . .’ parliamentary speech was anodyne, but given poignancy in retrospect by her murder. It was the only intervention in Parliament for which she is remembered.
It is a sign of desperation by the Labour Party that it felt it had to keep trading on the memory of someone who is remembered only for being murdered. The assassination of Airey Neave by the INLA just before the General Election in 1979 did not result in other parties stepping aside in Abingdon. When Ian Gow was murdered by the IRA in 1990, his former seat of Eastbourne was hotly contested and taken in the subsequent by-election by a Liberal, heralding Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.
In neither seat did the Conservatives trade on family connections as Labour did in Batley and Spen to secure votes. The blatant desperation has paid off by only a whisker with a majority over the Conservatives of just 323.
Jo Cox’s widower, a charity activist, could not be selected by Labour for the seat because of past reports of misconduct towards women.
Her sister, Kim Leadbeater, was not even a Labour Party member until the previous MP, Tracy Brabin, prepared to quit her seat for the political lifeboat of a mayoralty. Kim Leadbeater’s job was working at the foundation set up in memory of Cox. Her previous employment history was as ‘a self-employed wellbeing coach and personal trainer’. She had no political background, unlike the numerous more suitable local party activists and officials who were marginalised by her selection as candidate.
Labour decided that a political outsider was the best choice based on the use of sentiment and some kind of dynastic principle, rather than actual politics. Leadbeater’s only saving grace is that she is local. But that would also have been true of any Labour Party member from the area.
The final leaflets sent out by Labour before polling day did not even mention the party, except perhaps in very small print. A previous leaflet used an image of the Indian Prime Minister shaking hands with Boris Johnson as a form of attack on the Conservative Party. While Leadbeater touted herself as the local candidate, she has joined the Corbynist bandwagon and started going on about the Middle East.
The campaign has been one of the dirtiest since the 1983 Bermondsey by-election, maybe because of the arrival of George Galloway to contest the seat. For some reason, Galloway’s presence encourages people who have no open connection with him to indulge in dirty tricks. Illegal campaign leaflets, lacking a printer’s mark and pretending to come from Labour, have been distributed. Leadbeater and party supporters have been subject to verbal abuse and physical assault. Labour has complained about this to anyone who will listen.
While political street violence is to be deplored, any protest by Labour is a bit rich. The Labour Party also contains MPs, notably John McDonnell, who have spent their careers promoting street-level confrontation and praising riots.
When a mob stormed Conservative Party headquarters in Millbank, McDonnell said, ‘It just needed the one small spark way back in November before last, of the students kicking the s**t out of Millbank and then that spark lighting all the combustible material – that then brought people out in March, June and then November, and that’s the best of our movement and it’s still there, you know it’s still there.’
At another meeting, McDonnell said, ‘I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory MP, no coalition minister, can travel anywhere in the country, or show their face anywhere in public, without being challenged, without direct action.’
McDonnell has also cheered on the prospect of Conservative MP Esther McVey being lynched, as well as fantasising about going back in time to assassinate Margaret Thatcher.
He has been an MP since 1997, and at no time has Labour disciplined him for these comments. So Labour activists are only experiencing what another senior Labour activist has supported for many years. In a way they deserve this.
McDonnell did not campaign in Batley & Spen himself. In fact the Corbynist wing of the party and their fellow-travellers wanted Labour to lose as a pretext for toppling Sir Keir Starmer. If McDonnell had turned up, it is difficult to see how he and George Galloway would have differed much on anything. Galloway actually seems less openly supportive about political violence in Britain than McDonnell.
Labour’s real problem is that the public do not see that the party has moved on from when Jeremy Corbyn was the leader. There has not been the expected repudiation of Corbynism by Sir Keir. Instead Starmer has tried to be the unity leader in a party where the extremists do not believe in unity, only dominance. The consequence has been a series of by-election and local election disasters on his watch, only narrowly avoided on Thursday.
Sir Keir may have been lucky this time around, but it was only because Labour played on local sentiment, rather than national reputation. This is a trick that will not work twice.