It has only been five years since Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was murdered by a man who held ‘far-right views’ in the village of Birstall, where she was due to hold a constituency surgery. Cox herself was a staunch Remainer from a working-class background and her murder is a loss that Labour still feels today.
In May, Tracy Brabin became the first Mayor for West Yorkshire – an appointment that triggered a by-election in her old constituency, where Kim Leadbeater of the Labour Party won the seat by just 323 votes.
With the Red Wall falling to Conservatives as seen in Hartlepool recently, Kim Leadbeater winning the seat was so important, as it has provided some hope for Labour and for a constituency that lost such a fantastic MP so tragically. How did Leadbeater do it? The answer I believe is through fierce dedication to her constituency’s people and their issues, rather than Westminster’s inner politics.
Owen Jones remarked in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working-Class that becoming a politician was no longer a service but instead for career opportunists. Oxford grads turned consultants become MPs for constituencies that they know nothing about. The decline in trade unions’ parliamentary representation after Margaret Thatcher ousted them from power makes it a rarity to see someone from humble beginnings and working-class roots become an MP or even a strong voice in politics.
MPs once represented the towns and communities they were a part of and now that close-knit community has gone. Manual labour is sparse – with economic depravity and high levels of unemployment often leaning these once staunch Labour voters over to the right.
This is why Kim Leadbeater’s appointment is so important. In an article for The Guardian she remarked upon her campaign strategy that whilst her CV is not filled with political experience, she holds a deeper understanding of the town’s community than her opponents. This difference manifested itself in the build-up to the campaign by George Galloway, representative of the Workers’ Party, who intended to split the Labour vote in protest against Starmer’s leadership. Tactful, but not victorious.
Leadbeater herself was victim to homophobic abuse and eggs were thrown at campaigners. It’s the sort of division that Jo Cox had been against, with her seat in parliament commemorating her with a plaque reading ‘More In Common’, her well-known phrase.
Kim told The Guardian that she wanted to ‘burst the Westminster bubble’ as ‘Labour needs to reconnect with its roots and the fact that it is the party of working-class people. It needs real people to make some of those changes.’ An authentic voice, with a strong northern, working-class dialect.
Kim is indeed a voice for her community and a driven individual determined to make fantastic and positive change. She’s a familiar figure, born and raised in the area, dedicated to her people.
On her second day in Parliament, she asked the Secretary of State for Transport what funding was allocated to potholes. On the 14th of July 2021, she submitted a press release asking the government about the plan for an Amazon warehouse in Kirklees that could potentially cause traffic to worsen.
In an interview, she told Owen Jones that she is not clear on her position of Israel-Palestine, which is slightly disheartening – but her concern for the issue is clear as she admitted that she must learn more about the conflict before giving a full answer, as her focus, unlike Galloway’s, is on the local people.
She supports the Kashmir people, but can’t confirm what she would do to help the situation just yet. They’re hard-hitting questions for any politician to answer, no less on a busy campaign day. Leadbeater is not afraid to say that she doesn’t know enough, which is refreshing, and her answers are still evident of her passion for equality and righting wrongs.
But for now, she wants to sort her constituency’s problems before the complicated issues of foreign countries. This is fair, especially considering her sister was murdered by a far-right activist. She’s proven her commitment to learning about issues – as she posted her attendance of a talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Kim is a leader unlike any other we have seen recently. Whilst my faith in the Labour Party under Keir Starmer is far from renewed, it’s politicians like Leadbeater who offer hope in these current times. A northern, LGBTQ+ woman defying the odds in her fight to represent the town she knows so well; she has a lot to prove no doubt, but she’s undoubtedly an inspiration and is already respected and admired for what she has managed to do in the face of adversity.