Almost a month has passed since the former soap star Tracy Brabin was chosen to contend the Batley and Spen seat once held by her friend Jo Cox. But while she admits the endless carousel of door-knocks and public meetings has passed in a “bit of a blur”, she remains the epitome of enthusiasm and warmth as she gives her campaign the final push.
With less than two days to go before the polls open, Mrs Brabin paid a visit to the Salvation Army church in Heckmondwike. The former actress is as determined as ever to speak to local residents and find out what they want from their local MP.
“Given the circumstances... this campaign isnt like a normal by-election. I’m doing a lot of door-knocking, but its also about meeting members of the community in their activities,” she explains.
“One thing that’s really blown me away is the level of volunteering... I’m from here [but] I’ve never really taken into account how much time people give for others.
“I think that level of volunteering and warmth toward eachother has only grown given the circumstances of Jo’s death – people really want to stand together.
“It’s been a privilege being able to meet all these groups and individuals.”
Reflecting on the campaign so far, Mrs Brabin describes it as a “bittersweet” experience. Going from door to door, she says she has come across “a lot of people [who] have a story about Jo, and how she had an impact on their lives”.
But in addition to personal tragedy, the last few weeks have been made all the more fraught by the involvement of far-right groups. The English Democrats and the National Front are both fielding candidates, and are joined on the ballot paper by former BNP member Jack Buckby.
One of the core messages of Mrs Brabin’s campaign has been the need to promote unity and social cohesion in the face of increasingly extreme, anti-migration rhetoric. She claims that a lot of local residents are “angered” by the decision of right-wing groups to run.
Mrs Brabin said she is well aware of concerns both within the community and her own party about the current immigration policy, and accepts the need for “honest debate”. But she argues that many of the issues raised in connection with immigration can be traced back to much broader problems, such as government spending and employment. And it is these which she believes should be Labour’s priority.
“We have to be aware that for some immigration is an issue... [and] it is something that I will be talking about,” she said. “But my take on that is that its actually about jobs and about not getting an appointment at the doctors.
“The cuts in Kirklees council funding [are] affecting the population – they may then misjudge that as an immigration issue. And it’s straightforward to blame the other rather than to blame the government.
“An honest conversation is important... But at the moment the big issue for me is the by-election and I will be fighting for jobs, training and trade union rights for constituents.”
Mrs Brabin is also adament that she will not be distracted by Labour’s ongoing internal disputes. Just last week, Jeremy Corbyn faced renewed criticism from MPs for his perceived failure to condemn Russia’s actions in Syria, as well as his failure to tackle anti-semitism in the party.
However, Mrs Brabin points out that coming from a background in the arts means she is yet to become “enmeshed in all the inner party politics”. If elected, she says this will enable her to priotise constituents over party tribalism.
“My mission is to do my utmost to continue Jo’s legacy – her loneliness project was fantastic, and there was other work that was great for the community,” she said. “But I’m also hoping I can plough my own furrow and be my own person as well.
“I’ve got a different skillset to Jo’s – there is nobody in the Houses of Parliament with my background so I’m hoping that I can bring fresh thinking.”
OTHER CANDIDATES ARE:
*Jack Buckby: Mr Buckby is a press officer for Liberty GB and a former member of the BNP.
*Richard Edmonds: Mr Edmonds is a retired engineer who is standing for the National Front.
*David Furness: Mr Furness is running on behalf of the British National Party.
*Therese Hirst: Ms Hirst is the deputy chairman of the English Democrats.
*Waqas Khan: Mr Khan is a former Ukip candidate standing as an independent.
*Garry Kitchin: Mr Kitchin is running as an independent candidate.
*Ankit Love: Mr Love is registered as a candidate for the One Love Party.
*Henry Mayhew: Mr Mayhew is an independent candidate.
The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Ukip have all decided not to field a candidate out of respect for Jo Cox.
Polls open at 7am on Thursday and close at 10pm.