Sir Keir Starmer is breathing a heavy sigh of relief this morning as Labour have narrowly held onto the West Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen in Thursday’s crucial by-election. 

Kim Leadbeater has defeated Ryan Stephenson, her Conservative rival, by just 323 votes. 

Stephenson came second securing 12,973 votes while George Galloway, who contested the seat with his own Workers Party of Britain in a bid to oust Starmer, came third with 8264 votes. 

The Labour victory, declared at 5.25am on Friday, means Leadbeater will now represent the seat previously held by her sister Jo Cox, until she was murdered by a far-right terrorist in 2016.

Leadbeater has called it an emotional victory, adding,“If I can be half the MP Jo was, I know I’ll do her proud.” The 44 year old acknowledged the bitterness of the contest, which has seen her needing police protection at times. But she said she was “absolutely delighted that the people of Batley and Spen have rejected division and they’ve voted for hope.”

Leadbeater, who was the only standing contestant living inside the constituency, has put her success down to local issues. 

The results have defied the polls which predicted a Tory win, in a seat Labour have held since 1997. 

Many had branded the by-election a referendum on Starmer’s leadership; Less than two months on from Labour’s crushing loss in Hartlepool, a second by-election defeat would have likely resulted in calls for a leadership challenge. 

This morning, Sir Kier welcomed the “fantastic result for the brilliant and brave” Kim Leadbeater, who he will congratulate in person on Friday when he heads to the seat. 

But Amanda Milling, the chairperson of the Conservative Party, has pointed to the extremely narrow margin, insisting “we need to be clear that this is a Labour hold, not a Labour win.”

While the immediate pressure on Starmer will ease slightly, questions over the party’s vision and the direction of his leadership remain.