Amidst last week’s local election drama there was also a notable first for UK politics. On Wednesday Fiona Onasanya became the first MP to be removed by a recall petition. This petition has triggered a parliamentary by-election in Peterborough which will be contested on Thursday 6th June.
Peterborough is an interesting seat. For a considerable period of time it has been a Conservative/Labour marginal. The Conservative Party won the seat from Labour in 2005 and held it until 2017 when Onasanya regained the seat for Labour. Furthermore, Peterborough is also a Brexit facing seat. Some 61% of constituents in Peterborough voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
In normal circumstances you would expect the seat to be a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives. However, there is also a new kid on the block who might have something to say about this by-election. And that is the Brexit Party. The Brexit Party who coincidentally will be holding a rally in Peterborough this week have confirmed they too will field a candidate in the by-election.
Now can the Brexit Party win the seat? Well they have certain factors in their favour. They will likely have considerable momentum from the European Elections and will also benefit from the strong Brexit nature of the seat. Additionally, there is the current state of the major parties. The Tories are in disarray and according to the polls are unlikely to be competitive. The Labour Party also have their problems and struggled in Brexit supporting areas in the local elections. The behaviour of Onasanya could also alienate Labour supporters who might stay at home.
The reality is at the moment it is too early to call. And there is plenty of water to go under the bridge before voters in Peterborough head to the polls. Labour will be hoping that the Brexit Party will split the Conservative and Brexit vote allowing them to hold the seat and fend off the Brexit Party. However this is a by-election both major parties would have been keen to avoid. It represents a chance for the Brexit Party to breakthrough in Westminster. And with by-elections notoriously difficult to predict and often home to dramatic political developments it would be foolish to rule out the Brexit Party.