ir Keir Starmer was facing a major test of his leadership today as voters headed to the polls for a crunch Red Wall by-election.
A shadow cabinet minister told the Standard the Batley and Spen seat in West Yorkshire was “looking difficult” after controversial former Labour MP George Galloway threw his hat into the ring.
Sir Keir’s spokesman has insisted he will not resign if Labour loses, but deputy leader Angela Rayner’s supporters are said to be preparing a leadership challenge if the seat goes blue. Ms Rayner described the reports as “news to me”.
One Labour frontbencher admitted they were worried firebrand left-winger Mr Galloway would split their vote in a by-election that had grown increasingly toxic.
Backbench Labour MPs said they did not feel hopeful after the recent Hartlepool by-election in which the Tories romped home in an historic victory.
Labour’s candidate Kim Leadbeater is the younger sister of Jo Cox, the MP who was murdered by a white supremacist in the constituency in 2016.
She is defending a majority of more than 3,000 but the bookies have the Conservatives as odds-on favourites to win.
The constituency has voted Labour since 1997 but a Survation poll published last week put the Tories on 47 per cent, up 11 per cent from the 2019 general election, while Labour was on 43 per cent.
The contest has been marred by allegations of dirty tricks and attempts to divide voters along racial grounds.
Labour activists were pelted with eggs and kicked in the head, while Ms Leadbeater was abused in the street by a man who appeared to be protesting against LGBT education in school.
Experts said Mr Galloway was having a “field day” while Ms Leadbeater’s credentials had got lost in the campaign.
Earlier, elections guru Lord Hayward described Labour as being in a “mess” over the seat. He added: “It’s having real difficulties and the prospects for the Tories therefore are quite good.”
A former Tory minister said the situation was looking “increasingly optimistic” earlier this week.
Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling told the Standard last week it was a “much tougher” election than Hartlepool, adding: “I think we also have to remember that we are 11 years into government, governing parties don’t win by elections. Hartlepool bucked that trend.”
A poll carried out by YouGov for Sky found that four in ten Labour members believe Starmer should resign if he loses the by-election.
Seven in ten thought Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, would be a better leader.
Burnham, who lost the 2010 and 2015 leadership contests, told the New Statesman: “If there was a moment where that was right, then I’ve indicated that I would be prepared to go back.”
Boris Johnson visited the seat on Monday saying their candidate Ryan Stephenson had a “fantastic plan” to secure more jobs and get more police on the streets.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour’s Tracy Brabin after her election as West Yorkshire metro mayor.