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Keir Starmer has hailed the victory of Jo Cox's sister Kim Leadbeater in the Batley and Spen by-election, declaring: "Labour is coming home".
Mobbed in a packed park in the West Yorkshire seat after winning by 323 votes, Labour's delighted leader claimed the race – seen as a referendum on his job – was a "victory for the Labour movement".
But he also launched a blistering attack on rival George Galloway and the Tories – accusing the rivals of a "wall of hostility and poison".
Mr Starmer said: “This campaign has been tough because others have poisoned it with hatred, division, finding difference, misinformation, lies, harassment, threats and intimidation.
“That that should have happened in Batley and Spen of all places is disgusting. That that should have happened to Kim of all people is unforgivable.
“And for all those who engaged in it and for all those who didn’t call it out – they should be utterly ashamed of themselves.
“This is a victory of hope over division. It is a start. Labour is back. Labour is back.”
Watched by her and Jo's parents Jean and Gordon – who held a bunch of red roses – Ms Leadbeater said: "We have pulled this community together in the face of adversity."
Keir Starmer celebrating with new Labour MP Kim Leadbeater today
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
It comes after Labour pulled off a stunning victory in the Batley and Spen by-election race after holding the seat by 323 votes.
Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, hung on to the West Yorkshire seat for Keir Starmer's party with 13,246 votes to Conservative Ryan Stephenson's 12,973 in an astonishingly close-run contest.
Maverick left-winger George Galloway, who stood as a candidate for the Workers Party, took 8,265 – thought to be mostly ex-Labour voters.
Keir Starmer today claimed: "Kim has won this because Tories in Batley and Spen, former Tory voters, voted for her. So the left vote was split but we won. The Tories had a clean hit and they didn’t win."
Mr Galloway has vehemently denied sowing or supporting division in the seat, and publicly condemned men who harassed Kim Leadbeater over LGBT rights.
He has vowed to fight the result in the courts over a "false" statement that he had laughed while Ms Leadbeater was abused on the campaign trail.
Keir Starmer and Kim Leadbeater celebrating in a packed park in Cleckheaton, in Batley and Spen
(Image: Getty Images)
But in a Sky News interview today, Mr Starmer claimed: "Let’s not beat about the bush. The divisive politics tried to, and took probably 8,000 votes from Labour. So there was an attempt to divide the Labour vote. And yet Kim won.
"The Tories thought they could sit back, say nothing about the harassment and walk in, and they were wrong about that."
Mr Starmer said he was elected an MP on the same day as Jo Cox – murdered five years ago by a far-right extremist – and she would be "so proud" to see her sister today.
He added: "It took incredible courage for Kim to stand here and to go through this campaign.
Mr Starmer claimed: "The Tories thought they could sit back, say nothing about the harassment and walk in, and they were wrong about that"
(Image: Getty Images)
"Kim epitomises everything I want our Labour part to be. She’s of her community… She’s for her community, she’s got integrity, she believes in truth and honesty and bringing people together.
"That is exactly what I want for our Labour Party, the values of our Labour Party."
Mr Starmer condemned "misinformation, manipulation, lies and half-truths" during the by-election campaign – which saw Labour canvassers egged and assaulted, and Ms Leadbeater heckled in the street. A fake Labour leaflet was circulated that declared war on "whiteness".
He said: "This has been a very very positive campaign against a wall of hostility and poison from other candidates."
Asked if Tory sleaze was starting to cut through, he replied: "I think people are beginning to see there is a gulf of difference between integrity, honesty and bringing people together, and the politics of division, of hatred, dividing everybody and mistruths and half-truths."
Labour win close-run Batley and Spen by-election defying the odds in shock victory
MP Kim Leadbeater vows to do her sister Jo Cox proud – and says 'ugly' politics must end
Labour supporter and retired social worker Andrea Stow, 74, who turned out to hear the leader speak, said: “It’s like a cloud has been lifted from Batley and Spen. I hope George Galloway crawls back under his rock.
“Kim will be a wonderful MP and ambassador for our area. She will be great like her sister before her.”
Also turning out in Cleckheaton today was Labour MP Naz Shah, who fought George Galloway in a previous by-election.
The MP – who broke down in tears when the Mirror told her the result overnight – said: "I was literally shaking, I was literally in tears, it was such an amazing, amazing buzz.”
She added: "Labour is coming home and George Galloway is going home."
Retired social worker Andrea Stow, 74, said: “It’s like a cloud has been lifted from Batley and Spen"
Labour MP Naz Shah
The victory was bittersweet for fitness trainer and former bed saleswoman Ms Leadbeater, 45, whose sister Jo Cox was murdered almost exactly five years ago.
She said: “It has been a very emotional campaign and today is very emotional for me for lots of reasons.
“But if I can be half the MP Jo was, I know I will do her proud and I’ll do her family proud. Fingers crossed I’ll do a fantastic job, just as she did.”
Kim and Jo's mum Jean – clutching a bunch of red roses – told the Mirror she was "immensely proud" of her daughter, adding: "Obviously for us it's a little bit deja vu.
"Jo would have been so proud of her. She was the one who always said to Kim 'go out, make the most of what you've got, do something'… and she did."
Kim Leadbeater's parents Jean and Gordon said it was like 'deja vu'
(Image: Mirror/Rachel Wearmouth)
Her dad Gordon – who was in bed listening to the radio when Kim won – said his daughter had done "wonderful things" bringing the community together.
Jean added: "We just felt, she's done it! … Everyone was saying it's a Conservative win, it's definitely a Conservative win, I think we resigned ourselves to the fact it was a Conservative win.
"And then Kim's partner sent me a text saying 'she's won'. And I said 'don't be silly, they're still counting!'."
Gordon joked: "Thank goodness we haven't any more daughters. I don't think we could do it a third time!"
Jean added: "Two daughters, two MPs – more than enough!"
Gordon said his daughter's victory was a "new start" for Labour and a "great opportunity." He added: "Because of the lockdowns, Keir hasn't had the opportunity of addressing a wider audience.
"So let's hope he gets that."
This breaking news story is being updated.