Labour pips Brexit Party to win Peterborough by-election

7 June 2019, 01:56 | Updated: 7 June 2019, 09:45

Labour has narrowly won the Peterborough by-election, denying Nigel Farage's Brexit Party a first seat in parliament.

Unite activist Lisa Forbes won the seat with 10,484 votes, ahead of the Brexit Party's Mike Greene, who had 9,801 votes.

Conservative candidate Paul Bristow finished third with 7,243 votes, with the Liberal Democrats fourth and the Greens in fifth.

It is a disappointing result for Mr Farage's party, given 60% of voters in the area backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

But the victory is a welcome boost for Labour and leader Jeremy Corbyn, particularly off the back of a disappointing showing in last month's EU elections.

In her victory speech, Ms Forbes said her party's triumph over the Brexit Party "shows that the politics of division will not win".

Ms Forbes faced controversy in the week before polling day over a Facebook post she "liked" which said Prime Minister Theresa May had a "Zionist slave masters agenda".

She told the Sunday Times she apologised "wholeheartedly for not calling out these posts" and that she had liked the video attached to the post, "not the views expressed in the accompanying text".

She said she would "deepen" her "understanding of antisemitism so I can act as an ally, challenging it wherever it occurs".

Asked about the comments in an interview with Sky News following her win, Ms Forbes said: "I have no issue with any community, I think antisemitism is abhorrent.

"I actually liked a video of children praying about the atrocities that had happened in New Zealand and I hadn't paid much attention to the text above it and I apologised for that.

"I'm really sorry and I just hope that people will understand that I don't have a bad bone in my body towards any race of people and antisemitism is just something that I condemn completely."

Mr Corbyn claimed the victory showed "Labour has support all across the piece, all across the country".

"We are ready for a general election whenever it comes and we will stop the Tories taking this country into a no-deal Brexit, with all the threats to jobs that go with that," he said.

The Labour leader added: "Our party campaigned very hard. We had unbelievable levels of hostility from much of the mainstream media throughout the campaign.

"But our doorstep message, our message in the communities, carried the day and that is what political power is all about."

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Mr Farage claimed the Brexit Party's second place showed their victory in the EU elections was "not a flash in the pan".

"We're here to stay, politics has fundamentally changed and, on top of what happened here last night, there was a national opinion poll that put us six points in the lead!," he said.

"So something is really changing out there."

Giving his reasons for the Brexit Party's failure to win the seat, Mr Farage added: "We are very new, we came into this with bags of enthusiasm but we didn't actually have the data on the ground.

"That, in the end, is what wins and loses by-elections.

"We were up against the national Labour Party machine here.

"They can't fight us like this in every seat in the country and, if the polls are right and we're now in the lead, who can even predict what would happen at a general election?"

Reacting to his defeat, Mr Greene told Sky News: "Two parties have been ruling this country for decades.

"That's not happening anymore. We were ahead of the Tories, we were a little bit behind - only 680 votes - behind Labour."

He added: "We've learnt a lot. Let's see what the government does. Not just the Tory party, but the 500 MPs that promised to deliver Brexit and didn't, see what they do for 31 October [the new Brexit deadline], see when the next general election is.

"We'll be back."

A number of candidates for the Tory leadership claimed the Peterborough result reiterated the need for the party to "deliver Brexit".

The by-election was sparked by the first ever successful recall petition against a sitting MP.

Fiona Onasanya was removed by her constituents following her conviction for perverting the course of justice after lying about a speeding offence.

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The petition secured the support of more than a quarter of voters in Peterborough, well above the 10% needed to force a by-election.

The solicitor was permitted to stand in the by-election under the recall rules, but opted against doing so.

She won the Cambridgeshire seat for Labour with a narrow majority of 607 in the 2017 general election.

Ms Onasanya was expelled from the party after being convicted, but remained in parliament as an independent until she was removed by the petition.

She served 28 days of a three-month prison sentence for lying about who was driving her car when it was caught speeding in July 2017.