Keir Starmer should brace himself for bad news over the Batley and Spen by-election

Next week’s battle at the ballot box matters far more than last week’s in Chesham and Amersham, writes John Rentoul

<p>Keir Starmer and his by-election candidate, on the primrose path to nowhere</p>

Keir Starmer and his by-election candidate, on the primrose path to nowhere

Sir Keir Starmer must have been mightily relieved when the news broke of Matt Hancock breaking his own Covid-19 rules. The Labour leader must have felt the walls closing in as the media-political village was talking of nothing else but his stalled party and its imminent disaster in the Batley and Spen by-election next week.

The respite won’t last long, however. The by-election on Thursday is likely to be gruesome for Labour. Reports from the battlefield suggest that Kim Leadbeater, the party’s candidate, may even slip into third place behind George Galloway, running on a “Get rid of Starmer” ticket, while the Conservative government is likely to gain a second seat from the main opposition party after the Hartlepool by-election last month.

Even without the added humiliation of being beaten by Galloway, losing another northern Leave Labour heartland seat will be bad. Some exceptionally sunny “progressive alliance” types will point out that the government lost Chesham and Amersham to the Liberal Democrats last week, so a win in Batley and Spen would be two steps forward and one step back for the forces of Johnsonism.

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