IF the Tories are victorious in the Batley and Spen by-election later today, it may be the Engerland factor wot wins it.

Of course, the once solid Labour seat between Leeds and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire has looked wobbly for a stack of other reasons. But the Spirit of 1966 rekindled on Tuesday night could yet prove to be the tin lid.

The latest poll predicts the Tories will take the seat – held by Labour at every election since 1983. That’s a terrible way to follow Labour’s loss at Hartlepool and lost deposit at the recent Amersham by-election.

And worse – the battle for Batley and Spen has been fractious, bitter and unpleasant.

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George Galloway has rebounded from his Scottish election gubbing to tackle a new electoral challenge in the same time-honoured way – with ferocious attacks on former colleagues. This time anger is directed not at Scottish lefties who’ve succumbed to the Evils of Nationalism, but comrades suckered by Keir Starmer. The vitriol is a sight to behold.

The National:

Galloway says Labour has betrayed voters after being gripped by “woke liberalism”. He describes Starmer as a man with “no personality” whose manner is “so wooden the birds are trying to nest in him” and insists Labour must be demolished and replaced.

Even though Galloway looks set to poll just 6% – if he’s lucky – the local electorate seems to agree. A recent Survation poll, found Boris Johnson had a positive rating of +18%, compared to Keir Starmer’s -32%. Some 55% of Batley voters say Johnson is the best prime minister compared to just 18% backing Starmer.

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Labour say Johnson’s vaccine success makes him impossible to beat during the pandemic. But pollsters note the Tory vote share has fallen since the first lockdown – it’s just that Labour’s has fallen more.

So Starmer’s leadership credentials will unquestionably suffer if Labour loses its 3525 majority today. But the most immediate casualty will be Labour’s candidate Kim Leadbeater – sister of Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was murdered in nearby Birstall a week before the Brexit referendum.

Despite that terrible legacy, Leadbeater’s team has reported verbal and physical assaults and the candidate herself was barracked outside a local Mosque. It’s not clear why.

The National: Kim Leadbeater

Some 20% of the local electorate is Muslim. Leadbeater (above) is gay and homosexuality is obviously illegal in many Muslim countries.

But Labour’s been criticised for whipping up religious tension with a flyer to Muslim voters showing Boris beside India’s Hindu prime minister with the caption: “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side.”

Labour itself has approached the Electoral Commission over fake leaflets suggesting “the biggest threat to our precious multicultural society is whiteness”. There’s also been general criticism of Starmer’s failure to speak out strongly during the recent Israeli bombing of Gaza and the Labour leader has conspicuously stayed away.

Leadbeater has a police guard – mirroring the recent grim attacks on Sir Chris Whitty and the BBC’s Nick Watt as they were going about their jobs.

There’s also the slow but steady collapse of Labour’s Red Wall – accelerated it seems by the shameful fact Tory Ministers have been favouring their own Northern seats with “levelling up” cash.

In the old days evidence of such electoral bribery would’ve spurred support for Labour. But now it seems English voters, sizing the slim chances of a Labour revival, are getting into the handout queue instead. Tory mayors reinforce the message. If you want cash, vote Tory. Otherwise get stuffed.

The incredible popularity of King of the North Andy Burnham would seem to counter that gloomy trend.

But new figures that reveal a collapse in life expectancy in the “northwest” show that powerful Labour mayors can articulate problems but cannot solve them without devolved powers or Tory cash. Statistics show how little the UK Government invests compared to European countries – it all paints the same grim picture.

Why vote Labour if they aren’t going to win?

Without the protection of the Scottish Parliament, Red Wall England is being starved of hope and resource. Having bought the Brexit lie, and placed all faith in “taking back control”, Northern voters are clinging to the party of Brexit, hook line and sinker.

A “Labour loser” narrative is developing, aided and abetted by a Tory press that’s happy to set all sorts of hares running – like talk of a Blair comeback.

So, things weren’t looking good for Labour in Batley and Spen before Tuesday night.

And then came that result.

MOST Scots sighed wearily (this is the polite version) as England’s 2-0 victory over Germany allowed the dangerously potent totem of English exceptionalism – 1966 – to rise again like a gryphon from the ashes.

The National: Sir Keir Starmer

But if we sighed, Keir Starmer’s camp must have been cursing aloud because moments of “national sporting glory” tend to benefit the Tories, not Labour, just as such moments north of the border benefit the SNP.

Why is that?

Football has long been a working-class sport – witness the obvious discomfort of a bored rigid Boris and Carrie trying to look engaged during the crucial but often tedious fixture with England’s Auld Enemy. They sat on a table. Why? The pair of them would obviously rather have been at a croquet match, Wimbledon or Harrods.

But even though the Labour leader, an Arsenal season ticket holder, was actually at Wembley for that thrilling draw against Scotland, he picked up only pelters for suggesting staff should be let home early to watch the Germany match.

Somehow Starmer’s nervous and carefully chosen words speak of Labour’s biggest difficulty with working-class voters – he doesn’t sound committed enough, patriotic enough or ordinary enough to be a “real”, proud supporter of an English team.

This is completely unfair of course.

No-one expects Boris “upstairs” Johnson to understand football – but he demonstrates the required quota of Englishness by chuntering on about personal freedoms and gamely “roughing it” by visiting the little people at work and play. His very inability to sound normal proves his credentials – English (upper class). But the leader of the People’s Party can’t play the upper-class card – nor can this well-groomed, controlled lawyer play “downstairs” convincingly either. Keir Starmer is stuck betwixt and between. A bit like a progressive English version of that hopelessly inauthentic Scot – Michael Gove.

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IF culture wars continue to obscure the far more important and grindingly unfair distribution of wealth in England, Labour is done. But can Starmer shift the dial when he’s ducked the opportunity to take a stand, so many times? It seems Labour can neither change the political narrative nor sound as culturally convincing as cynical Tory “patriots”.

Labour never learned from being sunk by the same perceived lack of patriotism north of the border, where “standing up for Scotland” is now 100% owned by the SNP. Take Nicola’s cheeky fitba tweet – congratulating the England team before noting that Scotland remains the only team they couldn’t whup. Precisely the right, confident note.

And so, the supreme irony could yet come to pass.

The success of thoughtful, progressive England Manager Gareth Southgate could yet be the tin-lid for fitba crazy Keir Starmer.

Can Labour’s leader “get out the vote” at Batley and Spen as cleverly as Southgate got his men off the substitute’s bench for the final section of Tuesday’s match?

We won’t have to wait long for that result.