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Analysis

Pro-European votes help Labour pip Farage in Peterborough

by Luke Lythgoe | 07.06.2019

The Peterborough by-election has stalled what Nigel Farage hoped was the unstoppable surge of his new Brexit Party. But it was bloody close – Labour scraped in by 683 votes.

There’s a risk that Jeremy Corbyn now takes the wrong lesson from this win: that his fence-sitting strategy is working out. The winning candidate Lisa Forbes said it is Labour’s “duty to try and respect [the 2016] result”, while Corbyn continued to defend close aides urging him against a public vote.

But it was pro-Europeans who pushed Labour over the line in Peterborough. Stronger backing for a public vote – supported by alliances with other progressive parties – is the best way to stop Farage getting this close in future.

However they’ve spun it, Peterborough did not go well for the Brexit Party. This was a by-election in a marginal seat that voted 61% Leave, triggered by Labour’s former MP embroiling herself – quite spectacularly – in a speeding fine scandal.

Farage has once again seen the difference between a European protest vote (the Brexit Party got 38% in Peterborough last month) and what happens when voters are asked who they want to represent them in Parliament. The Conservative vote did not collapse nearly as much as Farage probably expected.

One can assume almost all voters fanatical about a hard Brexit voted for the Brexit Party. That 29% was far shy of the 61% Leave vote in 2016. Meanwhile, pro-European progressives were split between the only party likely to beat Farage (Labour) and other more explicitly pro-European parties like the Lib Dems and Greens, which collectively tripled their vote share.

Victory could easily have slipped through Labour’s fingers. What if Femi Oluwole had stood as a unity pro-European candidate, backed by the Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK, as originally planned?

Yes, Labour kept its seat today – but it was too close for comfort. Defectors to Farage’s party have made their minds up by now. But there’s much more to play for on the pro-European front. Full-throated support for a new referendum will revitalise Labour’s electoral hopes and open a world of possibilities for cooperation with other progressive parties.

That is the priority now. Brexit and the emergence of Farage’s Trump-lite tactics mean this isn’t just about seats in Parliament anymore. It’s a battle for the soul of our country.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Pro-European votes help Labour pip Farage in Peterborough”

  • it seems quite possible that Labour would have lost the election were it not for the outspoken defence of the Remain position articulated by Tom Watson and others. Corbyn of course will dismiss this interpretation, if it occurs to them at all

  • I feared Farage’s lot would win and that would have been intolerable. BBC news concentrated on the angle of Labour ‘just hanging on’ when, in fact, its majority was increased by 76 votes. Farage was seen looking daggers at Lisa Forbes.
    I feel encouraged, however . I wish Watson would take a more up front role and keep pushing a second referendum.