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5 March 2019

Why a by-election in Peterborough is still not certain

The recall process puts hefty barriers between here and a new by-election.

By Stephen Bush

And we’re off! Fiona Onasanya’s appeal against her conviction for perverting the course of justice has been struck down, which means proceedings to recall her and trigger a by-election in her Peterborough seat, which Labour narrowly won from the Conservatives in the 2017 election.

Within the next six weeks, a tenth of Peterborough’s eligible voters – that’s around 7,000 people, give or take – must sign a petition calling for the recall in one of up to ten locations in the constituency, though they can also apply for a postal vote.

Although the barriers to triggering a recall are fairly high – most people don’t like elections at the best of times – the chances of it being triggered are as good as they possibly can be. Both Labour and the Conservatives are actively trying to trigger the by-election. Both have strong political incentives to do so: for the Tories, because it allows them to remind voters that the incumbent MP was elected under a Labour flag and has since gone to prison. For Labour, it means they can at least remind voters that they called on Onasanya to stand down the moment she was convicted and that they can avoid the words “and then Labour tried to stop you electing a new MP” appearing on Tory leaflets in Peterborough.

It is only if the required signatures are collected and after the six week period elapses that a by-election can be scheduled: as Labour is the defending party that will be within their gift.

But because the recall petition itself occurs over a lengthy period and the barrier to triggering a fresh contest is very high, we still can’t be certain whether there even will be a by-election in Peterborough: much less what the political circumstances of that contest will be.

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