Voters in the West Yorkshire constituency of Batley & Spen are heading to the polls in a crunch by-election which is being widely touted as a referendum on Sir Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour Party.
Labour is defending a 3,525 majority in the Red Wall seat today but the bookies have the Tories as odds-on favourites to win. A recent Survation constituency poll put the Conservatives on 47 per cent, up 11 per cent from the 2019 general election, with Labour on 41 per cent.
While turnout will be significantly down on the 66.5 per cent attained at the 2019 General Election, Labour and hard-Left George Galloway's Workers Party both said they expected voters to come out to polling stations across the northern constituency.
Labour activists were out canvassing hard in the constituency's major towns, Batley, Heckmondwike and Birstall today. The contest is vital for Sir Keir's leadership after Labour's by-electon defeat in Hartlepool and local elections dubbed 'Super Thursday' in May.
The by-election was seen as a straight fight between Labour's Kim Leadbeater and Tory candidate Ryan Stephenson, but the arrival of hard-Left insurgent George Galloway in the constituency provided an extra headache for Labour's campaign managers.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Mr Galloway has said he has been targeting Labour's traditional Asian and white working-class coalition in an explicit attempt to topple Sir Keir, whose leadership is the source of frenzied speculation at Westminster.
Sir Keir's spokesman has insisted he will not resign if Labour lose, but new polling this week suggested that as many as four in 10 party members would want him to stand down and make for new leadership in the wake of a loss.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner was forced to deny reports in the Times that she had been canvassing support from MPs and trade unions if she were to mount a leadership challenge if Labour lose the by-election today.
A close ally of Miss Rayner told the newspaper: 'There's definitely been people sounding out the possibility - it's clear she'd easily reach 40 nominations - and urging her to run if the worst happens in Batley.'
However, the Ashton under Lyne MP tweeted to say the story was 'news to me'. Her allies told the Guardian that Miss Rayner does not want to stand now and that they are concerned about the risk to her reputation if she stabs Sir Keir in the back.
The Labour leader's spokesman insisted on Wednesday that he is on a 'four-year path' to lead the party back into power and would not be standing down if he oversaw another electoral defeat. He played down the prospect of a victory by saying it 'has always been a marginal seat' and that winning 'was always going to be challenging'.
Labour party candidate Kim Leadbeater leaves Norristhorpe United Reformed Church polling station after casting her vote in the West Yorkshire constituency by-election at Batley and Spen
Voters in the West Yorkshire constituency of Batley & Spen are heading to the polls in a crunch by-election which is being widely touted as a referendum on Sir Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour PartyInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Voters in the West Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen are going to the polls in a by-election touted as a fundamental test of Sir Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour Party
Labour is defending a majority of more than 3,000 in the seat but the bookies have the Conservatives as odds-on favourites to follow up their victory in Hartlepool in May and heap further pressure on Sir Keir
Labour is under pressure after it circulated a leaflet critical of Boris Johnson's diplomatic dealings with Indian president Narendra Modi - a Hindu nationalist - in an area with a sizable Muslim population
Earlier this week, Labour lashed out over a fake leaflet which purported to have been released by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) highlighting party leader Keir Starmer's support for Black Lives Matter in a bid to hit his popularity among working class white voters
The Batley & Spen by-election will be contested by 16 people from the hard left to far right of politics.
Kim Leadbeater, the sister of the areas's murdered former MP Jo Cox is running for Labour. But she is up against former Labour MP George Galloway who is running for the Workers Party.
This could play into the hands of Tory Ryan Stephenson, who is the favourite to take the seat.
On the far right, Jayda Fransen, the former Britain First leader, is standing as an independent, And former UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters is standing for her For Britain Movement.
The full list of candidates is:Paul Bickerdike, Christian Peoples Alliance Mike Davies, Alliance for Green Socialism Jayda Fransen, Independent George Galloway, Workers Party Tom Gordon, Liberal Democrats Therese Hirst, English Democrats Howling Laud Hope, Official Monster Raving Loony Party Susan Laird, Heritage Party Kim Leadbeater, Labour Party Ollie Purser, Social Democratic Party Corey Robinson, Yorkshire Party Andrew Smith, Rejoin EU Ryan Stephenson, Conservative Party Jack Thomson, UK Independence Party Jonathan Tilt, Freedom Alliance Anne Marie Waters, The For Britain Movement
There is a prospect of a backbench revolt if the seat is lost but it is unclear if any challenger would be able to secure the support of the 40 Labour MPs needed to trigger a leadership contest.
Tensions have flared between Mr Galloway's Workers Party and Labour supporters in recent weeks as both sides bid for the support of the area's various Asian communities by grandstanding on international issues including Kashmir and Palestine.
Sir Keir's party was accused of stoking racial and sectarian tension after distributing campaign leaflets criticising Boris Johnson's diplomatic dealings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - a Hindu nationalist - in an area with a sizable Pakistani Muslim population.
Last week, supporters of former Labour MP Mr Galloway were accused of using the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas in Palestine - and the Jewish heritage of Sir Keir's wife - to attack Labour.
And last Friday, Sir Keir condemned as 'disgraceful' the abuse Labour candidate Miss Leadbeater faced from a man who challenged her over the situation in Kashmir and her stance on LGBT+ education in schools amid what he said were concerns from Muslim parents.
The B&S by-election campaign has also focused on hyper-local issues such as the suspension of a teacher at Batley Grammar School after he showed a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad to a blasphemy class and the closure of the Batley Police Station.
An elderly Labour activist was allegedly physically attacked and pelted with eggs last week - with West Yorkshire Police confirming an 18-year-old man from Batley had been arrested on suspicion of assault in connection with an attack on the group of canvassers.
Ms Leadbeater is the sister of former Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox, who was murdered in the constituency by a far-Right extremist during the 2016 referendum on EU membership. She cast her vote early on Thursday morning in the Liversedge area of the seat, giving a thumbs-up to waiting photographers.
Ms Leadbeater has stressed she is the only one of the 16 candidates eligible to vote because she lives and works in the constituency.
The Conservatives believe they are in a strong position to take the B&S seat, which would heap more pressure on Sir Keir to