Batley & Spen by-election: a missed opportunity | Michael Bukola

4 Jul 2021
Lib Dem logo bird projected on blockwork

Amongst the fallout of the Batley & Spen by-election, previously a safe Labour seat, the Lib Dems reflect on our own campaign where we finished 4th with 3% of the vote, behind both the Labour and Conservative candidates and George Galloway's Workers Party. The only televised hustings aired on British Muslim TV was represented by our very own Cllr Shaffaq Muhammad, former MEP for Yorkshire and Leader of the Opposition in Sheffield, 30+ miles away!

Restricting the campaign to Cleckheaton, 10 miles from Batley, largely due to where the party has councillors, we resisted the temptation to engage with a rather disgruntled Islamic community based in Batley who were fed up with the Labour Party who they had given loyal support for 25 years in return for an area which had seen better days.

On the face of it, the place would have been good hunting ground for Liberal Democrats with a Labour-run council closing the local Police station, in favour of unaffordable housing, and potholes galore - classic community politics.

Notwithstanding that, we made no real attempt to engage the Islamic community of predominately South Asian heritage (pakistani and gujarati backgrounds). Our lack of self-confidence in engaging ethnic minorities is palpable. This has allowed a vacuum to occur where famously dubbed, the party of "community politics" have made way for populist parties to infiltrate the community. Previous Parliamentary by-election victories from Labour like Leicester South in 2004 and Brent East in 2003 were won by engaging South Asian voters on issues like the military invasion of Iraq. We could have detoxified the whole situation by sticking to the issues by working all-year round and not just when elections come round. Some of our earliest victories doing community politics was in Yorkshire back in 1983 General Election in Leeds West.

The constituency itself, is well documented for previous community tensions not least due to the tragic murder of former Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, killed by a far-right and neo nazi terrorist. Now, Jo Cox's sister, Kim Leadbeater becomes the new MP for Batley & Spen against a backdrop of controversary surrounding her own selection where she was 'parachuted' into the winning the Labour candidacy, waiving the minimum requirement of 1-year party membership for candidates seeking to stand for public office, to the detriment of long-standing party members, many of them, Asian, who would have wanted to stand but were not able to given the circumstances.

The 'Blue wall' strategy has given us a much needed narrative but it also just hides behind our failures in 'Red wall' seats whether that be in the North West, West Midlands or Wales. We need to get our "mojo" back, we have good story to tell while in Government on protecting civil liberties - stopping ID cards then, and campaigning against vaccine passports now, preventing the creep of a surveillance state.

Michael Bukola has been a Party member since 2003 and former ward councillor in South Bermondsey ward of Southwark Council from 2010 to 2014 where he stood against and won against the BNP. Michael is also a former Diversity Co-ordinator (Champion) for London Lib Dems (2011-2013) and accredited Party trainer. He served on both Federal Party policy working groups for Crime and Policing (2018/2019) and Immigration and Identity (2017/2018).

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