Batley and Spen by-election: Far-right candidates lose deposits, win under 2% of vote and ‘sink without a trace’

Candidates tried and failed to capitalise on Batley Grammar School cartoons row in tense race

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 02 July 2021 10:10
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Labour’s Kim Leadbeater says Batley and Spen have ‘voted for hope’

Far-right candidates have “sunk without a trace” in the Batley and Spen by-election, losing their deposits and winning just 1.4 per cent of the vote combined.

Five extreme right-wing and nationalist groups contested the seat where former MP Jo Cox was murdered by a neo-Nazi in 2016.

The by-election acted as a lightning-rod for fringe figures seeking to raise their profiles, mainly by capitalising on the Batley Grammar School cartoon row.

Their campaigning sparked counter-protests by anti-racist groups, while actor-turned-activist Laurence Fox held a rally on “free speech” in the town.

The five candidates received a combined total of 538 votes – 1.4 per cent – in the race won by Ms Cox’s sister, the new Labour MP Kim Leadbeater.

The worst result was for Susan Laird of the new populist party Heritage, with 33 votes, followed by former Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen, with 50.

Anne Marie Waters, leader of the far-right For Britain Movement, received 97 votes, while Ukip candidate Jack Thomson got 151 and English Democrat Therese Hirst received 207.

Election rules mean that all candidates must pay a £500 deposit, which is returned if they receive at least 5 per cent of the vote. The results mean that every far-right candidate lost their money.

The vote was the culmination of weeks of divisive campaigning in a seat where its sitting MP was murdered by a neo-Nazi almost exactly five years ago.

Far-right candidates did not attempt to use Ms Cox’s death, or acknowledge it in any way, in their campaign material.

Her husband, Brendan Cox, believes it was a “deliberate omission” to avoid damaging criticism.

“The reality is those far-right groups have sunk without a trace,” he told The Independent.

“These are all individuals on their own petty little ego trips. None of them have anything resembling a political movement or force behind them.

Floral tributes and messages are left outside Batley Town Hall ahead of a public event to celebrate the life of Labour MP Jo Cox on June 22, 2016

“The fact there are almost half a dozen of them is an indicator of their weakness and irrelevance, certainly not their popularity or prestige.”

The range of candidates was evidence of the fracturing of British right-wing movements in recent years.

Fransen, the former deputy leader of Britain First, appeared as an independent on the ballot paper because her “British Freedom Party” group has not been officially registered.

Waters was running as the leader of the minor extremist political party For Britain, which she founded after losing Ukip’s 2017 leadership election.

Ukip itself swung to the right during an identity crisis following the EU referendum and Nigel Farage’s resignation to form the Brexit Party, and now runs on the slogan “save Britain”.

Another right-wing party contesting Batley was the little-known Heritage Party, which was started last year by former Ukip London Assembly member David Kurten.

The nationalist English Democrats, founded by former Conservative Party member Robin Tilbrook, also fielded a candidate.

All five far-right and nationalist candidates made the row over the showing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad at Batley Grammar School central to their campaign.

In a campaign video issued by For Britain, Waters claimed protests and threats towards the teacher involved were evidence of “Muslim dominance”.

“In 21st century Britain, we are under the thumb of Sharia law,” she added, urging people to “wake up and fight it”.

One of her campaign posters used, without a caption or context, a 2014 photo of a member of Anjem Choudary’s banned al-Muhajiroun Islamist network holding a sign saying: “Muslims reject deocracy”.

The poster called for voters to “stand up to Sharia in Batley and Spen.”

Frasen’s posters claimed that “real patriots vote for Jayda” and carried the slogan “keep Batley British”.

The activist, who has convictions for religiously aggravated harassment, claimed to be “standing for British, Christian, Batley and Spen” and its “forgotten community of indigenous people”.

Fransen attempted to use Christian iconography in her campaign materials, sparking a rebuke from the Bishop of Leeds after a picture of a local church appeared on a leaflet without permission.

The Rt Revd Nick Baines said: “The Christian gospel rejects the association of the cross and the church with Jayda Fransen’s political statement.”

Ukip’s candidate, Mr Thomson, said the Batley Grammar School row was one of his “main campaign points”.

His campaign material included pledges to “save our statues”, “deport all foreign criminals” and “defund the BBC”.

The Heritage Party candidate, Ms Laird, had campaign points including to end coronavirus lockdowns, defend “traditional family values” and stop “Black Lives Matter and LGBT propaganda in schools”.

Therese Hirst, of the English Democrats, told the Yorkshire Post she was running because Labour had “abandoned us to woke extreme-left ideology and has a deep loathing for England and the English”.

One of her campaign leaflets hit out against “globalism” and said she would “control borders” and support the “English NHS” if elected.

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