Election battle begins in earnest

LOCAL Tories were caught on the hop by the announcement of a General Election this week. 

After Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap June 8 poll on Tuesday, Conservative Party officials in North Kirklees admitted that it will be several days before their candidates are in place, giving an early boost to the district’s two incumbent Labour MPs.

On Wednesday, former Kirklees Leader, Coun Robert Light (Birstall & Birkenshaw), said: “I am sure both associations will announce candidates in good time. We didn’t get any advanced warning of yesterday’s announcement either.”

By contrast, local Liberal Democrats were quick to announce their contenders. Cleckheaton councillor John Lawson will stand in Batley & Spen, with local activist Ednan Hussain contesting Dewsbury & Mirfield.

Lib Dem stalwart Baroness Kath Pinnock of Cleckheaton said: “The Lib Dems planned for a snap General Election 18 months ago. We were asked at that time to select a candidate for such an eventuality. So we are prepared and ready to go.”

Coun Lawson stood for the Lib Dems in Batley & Spen in the 2015 General Election and came fourth behind Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP. Mr Hussain also came fourth in the Dewsbury seat.

The BBC’s Six O’Clock News was broadcasting live in Dewsbury just hours after Theresa May’s announcement to assess the mood of local voters in what could again be one of the region’s most marginal seats.

In the 2015 election, Paula Sherriff defeated incumbent Tory Simon Reevell by just 1,451 votes, in a turnout of 67.5 per cent.

Miss Sherriff said yesterday (Thursday): “Like the rest of the country I was very surprised at the Prime Minister’s decision to seek a snap general election after she had promised so many times that she had no intention of doing so.

“As the complex Brexit negotiation process is now under way, it is clear that the Conservatives are putting party before country.

“I am incredibly proud of my record of standing up for the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale. I will go to the polls on June 8 to ask for their continued support in fighting this Government’s cuts to local schools, hospitals and public services, demanding better access to broadband, NHS dentistry in this area and improved transport facilities, and to continue to be a vocal champion in Parliament for my constituents.

“There is a clear choice at this election; a Tory MP who will have no option but to back Jeremy Hunt’s plans to close essential services at Dewsbury and Huddersfield hospitals, who will rubber stamp huge funding cuts to every school except one in the constituency, or the proven commitment of a hard-working Labour MP who will continue to stand up for our local communities at every opportunity.”

Last October, Tracy Brabin won the Batley & Spen seat in a by-election triggered by the death of Jo Cox. On a very low turnout, Ms Brabin won 17,506 votes (an 85.84 per cent share), seeing off nine other fringe candidates who all lost their deposits.

In 2015 Jo Cox had retained the retiring Mike Wood’s seat for Labour, winning 21,826 votes and defeating Conservative rival Imtiaz Ameen, who claimed 15,769 votes.

In a statement to her supporters, Ms Brabin said: “The simple fact is that for our community, the opportunity to boot the Tories out is absolutely vital.

“Since 2010, the Conservative Party have done nothing but take from our community.

“They have caused chaos in the NHS. We know that first hand as it has become harder to access a GP and services have been reduced at Dewsbury and District Hospital.

“They are taking millions from our local authority budget and vital local services have been cut. Batley Job Centre is the latest in a line of services to be stripped from our community.

“It’s for all these reasons and more that I look forward to this election, because it’s our opportunity to put forward our vision of a better Britain.”

Dewsbury’s Lib Dem hopeful Ednan Hussain, a father of two in his early 30s, said: “This election is a huge opportunity for voters to change the direction of our country and ensure Britain has a decent opposition.

“People may have voted to leave the EU but many did not vote for the extreme form of Brexit that Theresa May has imposed on us after being backed by Labour. And young people, some of whom will be voting for the first time, want us to think about their future when we vote on June 8.

“For all those who want to protect our local economy by staying in the single market and ensure the people have the final say over what comes next, this is your chance.

“I will also be fighting on local issues such as the future of our health services and in particular the downgrading of services at Dewsbury Hospital. I was born there myself so I understand why this issue is so important to people.”

Aleks Lukic, chairman of UKIP’s Dewsbury, Batley & Spen branch, said he is waiting for confirmation but expects to be standing for UKIP in Batley & Spen.

“In my opinion this is a Brexit election and it is critical that we get UKIP voices into Parliament,” the 27-year-old teacher said.

“The Tories are already threatening to send billions of pounds more to the EU, even after we come out. This spending needs to be redirected to the NHS, schools and social care as a matter of urgency, but Corbyn’s Labour refuses to challenge.

“This is only the start of the Brexit process and we can’t give the Tories room to sell us out.”

The Kirklees Green Party have a candidate selection meeting scheduled for Thursday (April 27) and will make an official announcement after that.

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