Galloway camp says Batley and Spen by-election challenge is 'being compiled'

A High Court challenge of last month’s Batley and Spen by-election result, which was threatened by the campaign team for candidate George Galloway, has failed to materialise.

By Tony Earnshaw, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Friday, 6th August 2021, 11:43 am
Updated Friday, 6th August 2021, 11:44 am
George Galloway speaks to the media after the Batley and Spen by-election count last month

The 21-day deadline for a submission has now passed, and the Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal that no challenge – known as a petition – has been issued.

Speaking on the morning of July 2 following the count, Mr Galloway said: “On multiple grounds we will apply to the courts for this election result to be set aside.”

His campaign manager James Giles later promised “the mother of all court cases” and that a High Court challenge was on the cards.

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A mobile poster advertising Batley and Spen candidate George Galloway during the by-election campaign

Yesterday (Thursday) Mr Giles said a legal case was “being compiled” and was “with counsel”. He said it was “absolutely” the intention of Mr Galloway to press ahead with his challenge.

The Royal Courts of Justice confirmed that the deadline for issuing a petition challenging a Parliamentary election is 21 days after the return of the writ with the name of the successful candidate was made to the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.

In the Batley and Spen by-election this would mean by midnight on July 23.

A spokesman said: “Further time may be allowed if the petition questions the election on the grounds of corrupt or illegal practices involving the payment of money or other reward or is in connection with election expenses.”

George Galloway arriving at the Batley and Spen by-election count at Cathedral House in Huddersfield last month

Kirklees Council said no legal challenge has been received.

A Labour source said: “There continues to be an enormous gulf between Mr Galloway’s fanciful claims and reality."

Mr Galloway, the Workers Party candidate, came third in the polls behind Labour and the Conservatives.

Labour’s Kim Leadbeater squeaked home by just 323 votes.

Mr Galloway arrived in the constituency with open intentions: to take crucial votes from Labour and to damage the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer.

But it was Sir Keir and Ms Leadbeater who celebrated in the hours after the result was announced, while Mr Galloway delivered a video message in the car park outside Cathedral House.

In it he said the returning officer had refused to grant a recount “when the margin of victory was less than one per cent".

He added: “The law is very clear. I’ve read it. I may even have helped to write it: that a recount should be granted by the returning officer when the margin is less than one per cent unless that request is unreasonable.

“In all the circumstances the last thing that that request could possibly be described as is unreasonable.

“This was peak Kirklees. Not even enough chairs for the people in the count to sit on. Not even a cup of coffee after 4am.

“But these are, of course, a mere bagatelle compared to the egregious and serious and election-altering antics of the banana republic that is the Labour-controlled Kirklees Council.”

Mr Giles said there were multiple elements to the Workers Party’s challenge.

The most significant aspect is a claim that the Galloway campaign was damaged by an incident outside a local mosque during which Ms Leadbeater was verbally attacked for supporting LGBT rights.

Mr Giles said it had been suggested that Mr Galloway had laughed at Ms Leadbeater as she was being harangued by an activist, and that reports by the press and on social media had led some local voters to turn against the Galloway campaign.

There had been suggestions throughout the night of the count – which began at 10pm on July and went through until after 5am – that Mr Galloway might challenge a Labour win, even as the result became too close to call between Labour and the Conservatives.

That prompted a sharp response from Labour MP Naz Shah, who in 2015 won back the Bradford West seat from Mr Galloway, who took it from Labour in 2012.

She said: “Mr Galloway says he’ll launch a challenge every time someone wins. I’ll believe it when I see it.”