Peterborough by-election – What have we learned?

By Daisy Peck, Account Executive

The Labour Party retained their seat in yesterday’s Peterborough By-election electing Lisa Forbes with 31% of vote, narrowly beating the Brexit Party by only 683 votes.

On the face of it, the by-election result is insignificant, returning a Labour MP and keeping the precariously balanced Conservative majority in Parliament unchanged. However, the election is being looked at through the lenses of how the result might foreshadow the result of a future General Election. Overall both the Labour and Conservative Parties saw a substantial decrease in their share of the vote, but did poll higher than national polling had predicted.

The result was a tight three horse race between Labour, the Brexit Party and Conservatives, in what is usually a Conservative/Labour marginal seat. Professor John Curtice noted that Forbes had set a record for the ‘lowest share of the vote won by a winning candidate in a by-election’ at 31%. The Brexit Party result only adds further weight to their future involvement in Westminster politics, and their popular support is likely to incentivise the Conservative Party to move towards a harder Brexit outcome. This result will also make both Labour and Conservative more apprehensive about calling an early General Election.

How the main parties fared

Labour Party

Labour’s victory comes not through their own popularity (as they received a 17% net loss) but as a result of the Conservative/Brexit split of right wing voters which allowed the low Labour vote to top the poll. As well as knocking some of the wind out of the Brexit Party’s sail, the result avoids additional pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to further soften his Party’s position on a second referendum. As a constituency that voted Leave in the EU referendum by 60.9%, the Labour Leader will use this result argue that softening the Party’s Brexit position risks losing seats in pro-Leave areas such as Peterborough.

Brexit Party

The Brexit Party failed to win their first Westminster seat and thus the platform and legitimacy that accompanies it. Whilst they will undoubtedly be disappointed by not taking the seat, their victory over the Conservatives allows them to retain their status as the main pro-Brexit Party and continue their high national presence. The Party’s Leader, Nigel Farage, has vowed to ‘power on’ if the UK does not leave the EU on the 31st October and this will likely have serious consequences for the Conservative Party in any future elections.

Conservative Party

The Conservatives were the biggest losers of the night with their share of the vote decreasing by 25%. There is little doubt that their drop in support arose from their core voters flocking to support the Brexit Party. The shift in support reemphasises that the Conservatives are unlikely to win an increased majority at any forthcoming General Election before they deliver Brexit. As such, this also increases the likelihood of Conservative Party MPs lending their support to a harder Brexit candidate in the upcoming leadership race.

Liberal Democrats

Whilst polling 9% higher than they did in the previous General Election, the Lib Dems received a lower result than national polling had indicated. This is unsurprising in a constituency that heavily backed Leave in the 2016 referendum but is still likely to be a disappointment to the Party following recent election success. This will likely raise questions around how the Lib Dems positions themselves across the electorate beyond being the Party supporting a Second Referendum.

Overall, this result reaffirms the view that the Brexit issue is posing major challenges to both the Conservatives and Labour. While Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party did not make their Westminster breakthrough on this occasion, there is no doubt that their presence is having major ramifications on the national political scene.

Get in Touch

Daisy Peck

Account Executive

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