Peterborough to face by-election as Fiona Onasanya recalled

27 per cent of voters in the hyper-marginal Leave seat chose to recall their MP, who was jailed after lying to avoid a speeding conviction.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Peterborough faces a by-election after Fiona Onasanya, the disgraced former Labour MP, was recalled by more than a quarter of her constituents in the first successful petition under the Recall of MPs Act.

John Bercow, the Speaker, told the Commons that Onasanya - who was jailed for three months in January after being convicted of lying to avoid a speeding charge - had lost her seat this evening. 

Some 19,261 of Onasanya's constituents had signed the recall petition, which opened in March, after her release from jail and expulsion from Labour. The 27 per cent total was well clear of the 10 per cent threshold required to trigger recall. 

A by-election will now follow and is likely to be fiercely contested by Labour and the Conservatives - both of whom registered to campaign over the six weeks the petition was open - as well as Nigel Farage's Brexit Party. The bellwether constituency is both highly marginal - Onasanya won by just 607 votes in 2017 - and voted decisively for Brexit by a margin of 61 to 39 per cent. 

Local Tories fear the government's handling of Brexit will lead to a strong showing for Farage's party, who are to hold a rally in Peterborough on Tuesday evening. "If the Brexit Party get half of the 36,000 or so votes that Leave did here in 2016," one senior Conservative said, "they'll win the by-election comfortably. Ukip polled 7,000 votes in 2015 with a Conservative EU referendum commitment and a strong Eurosceptic incumbent MP. Go figure."

Labour councillors in Peterborough, meanwhile, are confident that their decision to expel Onasanya as soon as she was convicted will spare them the ire of voters. Others, however, have been concerned at the lack of anger towards the Conservatives on the doorstep. There are also fears over the potential impact of Labour's Brexit stance - and particularly its flirtation with a second referendum - on the result.

Several councillors said they have not seen Onasanya in Peterborough for months. It is not known whether she will contest the by-election - as she is eligible to do - but one of the factors she may consider is that she will only be eligible for a Loss of Office payment if she loses the seat at an election, not if she stands down before it.

Lisa Forbes, Labour's parliamentary candidate for the seat, told the New Statesman that she would campaign to give the constituency a fresh start. "It is great news for our city that the petition to recall Fiona Onasanya has passed. We in the Labour Party campaigned hard to pass this petition, and the people of Peterborough have clearly said that they want a fresh start and an MP who will bring honesty and integrity to the role.

"We face a lot of challenges in our city, from the rising crime, to the falling school standards. We now have the chance to change this, with a by-election to be announced soon we can offer the people of Peterborough the fresh start and better deal they deserve."

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. 

Eleni Courea writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2018.