Yet the fact that Labour cannot take this ‘red wall’ heartlands seat for granted, despite Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid pandemic coming under growing scrutiny, speaks volumes about the scale of Sir Keir Starmer’s present predicament.
He might have been unable to play down Labour’s loss in Hartlepool last month because of Brexit, but a loss in West Yorkshire would be catastrophic for his leadership because Batley has a far more diverse electorate.
If Labour can’t win here, and at this stage in the electoral cycle, then it will suggest that the party has not yet reached ‘rock bottom’ and a challenge to Sir Keir’s leadership would, in all likelihood, soon follow.
What he needs to be doing, however, is heeding the advice of Bradford-born TV presenter and former MP Gloria De Piero on how Labour can win back its ‘northern soul’ in those seats that shunned Jeremy Corbyn – and Sir Keir’s anti-Brexit stance – in 2019.
It will mean a far more nuanced response to Brexit. It requires far greater realism over the public finances – an issue already being tackled by Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, the new Shadow Chancellor.
And, crucially, there’s an imperative on Labour to come up with a positive policy vision for the North – one which offers hope for those families fed up of Labour talking down the region and, in turn, their communities and own prospects.
That’s the challenge facing Sir Keir – provided Labour win Batley & Spen and his party affords him the chance this summer to begin a much-needed policy overhaul that, frankly, could still have been started in the past year.
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