Kim Leadbeater began her maiden speech in parliament by saying she would “give literally anything not be standing” in Jo Cox’s place as the new MP for Batley and Spen.
Leadbeater, who won the seat for Labour by just over 300 votes in a by-election in June, paid tribute to her sister Cox, the former Batley MP who was murdered by a far-right extremist during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.
Leadbeater said Cox’s murder “ripped the heart of our family” but described how proud she was of her sister’s “extraordinary” contribution to politics during her “tragically short time” in the Commons.
The debate on Cox’s legacy was secured by Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle, who was one of a number of members to pay tribute to the late MP and her newly-elected sister in parliament.
Addressing her parents and Cox’s children in the public gallery, Leadbeater said her sister was a “compassionate and caring humanitarian, a proud Yorkshire lass, a friend to many”.
She said said she felt a mixture of “pride and responsibility” at being elected in her place, but added: “As the House does my family the great honour of paying tribute to my sister, I hope members will understand that I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I’d give literally anything not to be standing here today in her place.”
Leadbeater was elected as the new MP for Batley and Spen in a by-election triggered by Tracy Brabin’s election as West Yorkshire mayor.
“I hope members will understand that I mean no disrespect to this place when I say I would give literally anything not to be standing here today in her place”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 9, 2021
Her win came as a shock to many who had expected the Tories to take the marginal Yorkshire seat and delivered a much-needed boost to Keir Starmer’s leadership following a poor set of results during May’s local elections.
With touches of humour in her speech, Leadbeater said she had a “lot to learn” – including getting the attention of the Speaker and mastering her way around parliament.
“I am told the first skill I need to master is bobbing up and down to get your attention, Mr Speaker. And as I have a background in sport and fitness, I hope that is one thing I will be good at.
“I am quite new to politics, so I am the first to admit that I have got a lot to learn.
“I have already nearly sat on the wrong side of the chamber a couple of times, although whilst it might be the wrong side for now, I am sure that day will come.”
As the new MP for Batley, Leadbeater pledged to hold the government to account over its “levelling up” agenda.
“We don’t like to be taken for fools,” she warned.
“So, with respect, I say to the party opposite that fine words about levelling up are all well and good, but what we have seen in Batley and Spen over the last decade are drastically reduced police numbers, huge cuts to the road repair budget, growing poverty and inequality and queues outside our food banks.
“There are areas of my constituency that are desperate for investment.
“I will be holding the government to account to ensure Batley and Spen gets the fair share of whatever levelling up money is going, so that it goes to the people and communities who need it most.”
She ended her maiden speech on a humble note by saying: “I am sure I will make more mistakes because I am only human, as we all are, and I think sometimes people forget that.
“We all have family and friends and, if we are lucky, maybe even some interests and hobbies outside of politics.
“Putting yourself forward for public office is a brave thing to do, wherever you sit in this place, and I appreciate it now more than ever.
“Since my election, the one thing people keep saying to me is ‘Kim, please don’t change’ and I don’t intend to. I will always stay true to my roots and identity.
“If I can be half the MP my sister was, then it will be a huge privilege to get on with the job of representing the wonderful people of Batley and Spen.”