This weekend I drove up to Yorkshire to cover the Batley and Spen by-election. Batley is a small town, surrounded by rolling green hills, yellow York stone cottages and the towers of disused cloth mills. It’s also a focus for a tragic historic event: the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2015 (the first of a sitting MP since 1990) in the lead up to the Brexit referendum. This June is the sixth year anniversary of her death, almost to the day, and her sister Kim Leadbeater is standing for the Labour Party on Thursday.
Another controversial event occurred in Batley in May this year: a local school teacher showed pictures of the prophet Mohammed to his class and has been in hiding ever since.
The constituency is comprised of many small villages surrounding Batley. Each one is either majority white or majority Muslim. (I must admit it is curious as a Londoner to hear locals in Pakistani traditional dress speaking with broad Yorkshire accents).
Batley is a Labour stronghold since 1997, but, despite the emotive pull of Jo Cox’s sister’s candidature, it looks likely that this northern constituency will, like Hartlepool two months ago, fall to the Conservatives. Another brick in the ‘red wall’ of northern Labour constituencies will turn blue.
On arrival, the town centre was crowded with police and protestors. Tommy Robinson, the far-right activist was rumoured to be making an appearance. All I saw was the counter-protest by anti-racists. I spoke to a few locals, a young Labour voting mum, a 19 year old Tory councillor, a couple of Muslims waiting to get breakfast and a biker called Squish.
George Galloway, the Scottish far-left politician, is also standing in the by-election. He’s married to a Muslim woman and is tremendously popular among Muslims, partly because of his support for Palestine. He will split the Labour vote and make it more likely that the Tories will win. His goal? To force the hapless Labour leader Keir Starmer to resign, coming as the third by-election in a row that he will have lost. It’s all gone so horribly wrong for Starmer in his 15 months as leader – from square-jawed ‘he looks like a politician’ in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, to anxious-looking, confidence rapidly draining away, red-faced loser.
Kim Leadbeater is the only local candidate amongst 16 fighting for the seat. She’s also gay. She’s a complex addition to the local political scene, having only joined the Labour Party three weeks before standing. As the 19 year old Tory councillor told me: “She’s jumped into the deep end. Perhaps she should have stood as a local councillor first”.
This weekend Kim refused to do any more press: ‘taking a break’ after being harassed and shouted at on the street by a Muslim activist male from Birmingham. After Jo’s murder at the hands of a white far-right nutter, this must have been triggering. However, that is the life of an MP. You have to be tough as nails.
So I’ve set the scene. However I’m creating a whole new hybrid form of politics reporting, mostly centred around food. I don’t think food is spoken about enough in politics anyway.
This ethnic mix in West Yorkshire happily results in a vibrant local cuisine. Next to the Labour HQ is ‘Brew’ cafe, which serves the most extraordinary breakfasts. Two lads I spoke to, each indulging in a double breakfast, came all the way from Leeds. As fashionably dressed young Muslims, I asked what they thought about George Galloway “We like him but he also says that the Uighurs (a Muslim minority) aren’t being badly treated by the Chinese. What’s that about?”. Galloway is trying to straddle communism and Muslim rights and failing.
Brew is run by young Mohammed and his family, mum, brother and everybody. It serves ‘The Full Indian’ breakfast which consists of a spiced omelette, two puffy puri breads, a flat paratha bread, Bombay potatoes, Indian baked beans, a chickpea curry and a glass of cardamom chai for nine pounds. The Labour MP Emily Thornberry came in, recognisable despite her mask and ordered the same thing.
They also serve the ‘Full Canadian’ breakfast with maple syrup, pancakes, and grilled pineapple, the ‘Full English’ (of course), and outrageous French toast, heaped with cream, chocolate sauce and strawberries. You have to queue outside to get a table.
The next day I tried another Batley cafe, part of a chain, a sub-continental Starbucks, Chaiiwala, which also served the ‘full Indian’. as well as other Indian breakfasts such as the ‘halwa puri’, a sweet semolina served with puffy breads. They had a choice of chai: karak or masala chai (strong milky spiced boiled tea) and pink tea, a Kashmiri speciality. What makes it pink? This blog post explains that it is a mixture of baking soda, Kashmiri green tea, slow preparation and a cold water ‘shock’.
Indian Chai tea
- 500 ml boiling water
- 1 tbsp loose black tea leaves
- 75ml condensed milk
- 1-2 tbsp palm sugar/jaggery
For the Chai masala spice mix
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 green cardamom pods, split
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 tbsp ground nutmeg
- First, put together your chai masala mix.
- Add the boiling water to a pot, along with the tea and the chai masala mix.
- Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, then scoop out the tea unless you like it very strong.
- Add the condensed milk and the palm sugar or jaggery, to taste.
Indian spiced omelette
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp whole milk
- 1 tsp turmeric powder or grated fresh turmeric
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- thumb fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- large pinch fresh coriander leaves
- 1 tsp salt or black salt
- pat butter
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Beat the eggs together, adding milk
- Add the turmeric, onion, ginger, chilli, fresh coriander, salt
- Heat a frying pan on a stove, on medium high, add the butter and oil
- Add a third of the egg mix
- Reduce the heat and add the rest of the egg mixture. Cover the pan.
- After a minute, flip over the omelette and cook the other side.
- Serve hot with bread. Or cold as a sandwich.