POLITICS
10/05/2021 15:45 BST | Updated 10/05/2021 16:04 BST

Labour's Batley And Spen Candidate 'Must Be Working Class', Keir Starmer Told

Ian Lavery, Jon Trickett and Laura Smith draw battle lines as fallout from Hartlepool defeat continues.

Aaron Chown - PA Images via Getty Images
Labour MP for Wansbeck and former Labour Party chair Ian Lavery

Labour’s candidate to be the next MP for Batley and Spen must be “working class”, Keir Starmer has been told.

The message from left-wing MPs Ian Lavery and Jon Trickett, and campaigner Laura Smith, came after the party’s defeat to the Conservatives in Hartlepool. 

Paul Williams, who lost the race to the Tories’ Jill Mortimer, was selected from a “longlist” of one in a move which provoked anger among grassroots campaigners. 

Now, the party faces another red wall challenge after Tracy Brabin’s victory in the contest to be West Yorkshire mayor will trigger a by-election in Batley and Spen. 

The joint statement from Lavery’s No Holding Back group, said Starmer must select someone with a working class background, and ideally a key worker, and “not repeat the errors that brought us such a humiliating defeat” in Hartlepool.

While unable to categorically define what was meant by “working class”, the group said it welcomed a debate with the Labour leadership on the issue. 

One definition being looked at by the group was “people who have to work in order to provide sufficiently for themselves and their families”.

Their statement said: “Over a period of decades our link with working class communities has been gradually eroded with Brexit speeding our demise.

“The comments of those during the 90’s who once boasted that working-class voters ‘had nowhere else to go’ have been categorically proven to be nonsense.

“Labour must never again create a long-list of one and impose a candidate favoured by the leadership on local parties and local communities.

“There are a whole host of people and particularly key workers who have kept our communities afloat during the last year who would add so much to the commons and would deliver true representation for Batley and Spen.” 

The trio added that Starmer must “ensure the selection for the upcoming by-election reaches members in Batley and Spen and crucially is wholly made up of working class Labour members from the area”.

In response, a Labour source told HuffPost UK: “We welcome ideas and contributions as we seek to rebuild the Labour Party, but it is not currently a priority to have an internal debate between MPs over who is working class and who isn’t.”

It was claimed Williams, a former MP and a doctor, which also made him a key worker during the Covid pandemic, was favoured by Starmer for the race. 

While no official shortlist for Batley and Spen has yet been drawn up, it is thought most names in the frame are councillors and local figures. 

The Tories took Hartlepool with a majority of almost 7,000, after Labour clung on in 2019 when the Brexit Party vote divided opposition. 

Brabin won Batley and Spen with a majority of 3,525 at the last general election, but with Boris Johnson making council seat gains across England on Thursday, Labour faces a tough contest. 

A date has not yet been set for the by-election. 

On Sunday, Starmer embarked on a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet, with deputy leader Angela Rayner handed a boosted role after she was removed as campaign co-ordinator and party chair. 

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds was also replaced with Rachel Reeves, who has led campaigning against so-called “Tory sleaze”. 

Starmer’s clash with Rayner, however, sparked anger among the Labour left, with Trickett telling journalist Owen Jones on Sunday that Starmer’s critics should “not rule out” a leadership challenge in future. 

In a statement on Sunday, Starmer underlined that Labour had made gains in the Welsh assembly and won the West of England mayoralty from the Tories. 

The party also saw the re-elections of city mayors Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, Sadiq Khan in London. 

Starmer said: “These results give us optimism and inspiration for the future. The challenge for us now is to build upon these successes and learn from the places we lost.

“I look forward to working with our refreshed and renewed team to take on that challenge, deliver that change and build the ambitious programme that will deliver the next Labour government.”