Labour’s byelection victory was a strike against the politics of division | Keir Starmer - 4 minutes read

When I was with Kim Leadbeater in Batley and Spen a few weeks ago, I was struck by two things. First, that I had never seen such warmth and affection for a candidate from local people. Whether we were in the high street or having dinner in a local pub, people came up to say hello, to wish the campaign well and to offer their support. These weren’t traditional Labour voters, but people from across the local community – people who hadn’t voted Labour for years, but knew Kim was one of their own. Someone who would always put Batley and Spen first.

But I was also struck by the toxic atmosphere that hung over the byelection. The intimidation, hatred and lies that seeped into the contest and threatened to dominate it. A few days later we would see all too clearly the consequences of this, with violence and aggression against Kim, our activists and our members. That this should happen in Batley and Spen, of all places, and to Kim, of all candidates, was disgraceful.

And it’s why Batley and Spen wasn’t just another byelection. It was so much more. It was a victory for hope over hate. Decency over division. Truth over lies.

I entered parliament at the same time as Jo Cox. Our kids are around the same age. We were good friends and I miss her dearly. I can imagine how proud Jo would have been to see her sister winning this byelection and defeating those who wanted to divide her local community. Showing, once more, that there is more that we have in common than that which divides us.

This was a victory against the odds, the polls and the predictions. And the values of Kim’s campaign won through – decency, honesty and integrity. Those are the values that define the Labour party that I lead.

For too long our politics has been dominated by those who want to divide us – and those who think that decency, honesty and integrity aren’t important. As a result, our politics has been polarised – and trivialised. The gap between Westminster and “real life” has become more pronounced, and faith in politics as a force for change – and a force for good – has been diminished. And why wouldn’t it, when we have a prime minister who basks in his own dishonesty? When cabinet ministers can do what they like without any threat of being sacked? And when a government operates on the basis that it’s one rule for them, and one rule for everyone else?

That fundamental divide, between integrity, honesty and decency, and misinformation, manipulation, half-truths and non-truths, is not just the divide in Batley and Spen. It has become one of the defining battles in our politics – whether in the UK, the US or across the world.

I know which side my Labour party is on. We want to bring the country together, not push communities apart. Nobody embodies that spirit more clearly than Kim. And as we emerge from restrictions, there is now a real opportunity to harness the solidarity and national spirit that we’ve seen over the past year – to make sure that after the last year of sacrifice, we build a more united, fair and secure country. To rebuild our economy and our public services. To bring our communities back together. And to put honesty and integrity back at the heart of our politics.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be travelling across the country setting out Labour’s plan for the recovery – building on the ambitious £15bn education recovery plan we’ve already put forward to make sure no child is left behind because of the pandemic.

Batley and Spen was an important win – in the most difficult of circumstances. But it is only the start. I want to see more MPs like Kim. And for Labour to have more nights like the one we have just seen.

Source: The Guardian

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