Attempt to form pro-remain alliance in Peterborough fails

Lib Dems, Greens, Renew and Change UK had been in talks over backing single candidate

An attempt to form an alliance of pro-remain parties to support a single candidate in a byelection in Peterborough has collapsed, raising concerns the failure will hinder cooperation in the future.

Representatives of the Liberal Democrats, the Green party, Renew and Change UK spent several hours unsuccessfully trying to reach an agreement on a single independent candidate before a 4pm deadline for nominations for the Cambridgeshire seat.

It leaves the Lib Dems and the Greens supporting their own candidates. Change UK would support Renew’s candidate, sources said.

Senior Labour figures connected to the People’s Vote campaign were blamed by Change UK for objecting to offering to support a single candidate.

The Change UK MP Gavin Shuker said: “We all agreed to stand down any candidates we might field in favour of a genuinely independent, pro-‘people’s vote’ and pro-remain candidate who had expressed an interest and intention to stand.

“However, senior Labour figures, including senior figures campaigning for a people’s vote, made it clear they would strenuously disrupt the campaign and obstruct an independent candidate, driven by fears that it would harm their party in Peterborough.”

It is understood the proposed alliance candidate was Femi Oluwole, the co-founder of Our Future Our Choice, a pro-EU advocacy group for young people.

Sources close to the People’s Vote campaign said its representatives had not made any threats, but had become involved in the process because the proposed candidate asked for their advice.

A People’s Vote source said the group had advised there would be legal issues, including around election funding, which could not be solved at short notice.

“A potential candidate for the Peterborough byelection has decided not to stand for their own reasons,” they said. “We understand this is because it would have opened up a range of potential legal issues to do with electoral law, as well as the obvious logistical difficulty of organising an effective operation at such short notice.”

Voters will go to the polls on 6 June to replace the former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who lost her seat after being jailed for perverting the course of justice. The byelection will be a challenge for the major parties after the government failed to get its Brexit deal approved before the second deadline of 12 April.

There are concerns the remain vote could be split, allowing Nigel Farage’s Brexit party to capitalise on anger against the two main parties. Labour and Conservative officials in Peterborough have privately expressed concern they may experience a backlash because of the Brexit stalemate in parliament.

At a People’s Vote event earlier on Thursday, the Change UK MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the health and social care select committee and was formerly with the Conservatives, said she wanted to see a single remain-supporting candidate.

“I think that it would be a positive thing for all unequivocally remain parties to be there fielding a single candidate and combating all the nonsense we are getting from Farage,” she said.

Why is there a by-election?

Former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya lost her seat after being jailed for perverting the course of justice. She become the first parliamentarian to be removed from office after a recall petition.

How did the parties do at the last election?

In 2017 a close vote saw Labour take the seat from sitting Conservative MP Stewart Jackson with a majority of just 607.

Labour - Fiona Onasanya 22,950
Conservative- Stewart Jackson 22,343
Liberal Democrat - Beki Sellick 1,597
Green - Fiona Radić 848

Who is standing this time?

Labour are hoping to retain the seat with Unite trade unionist Lisa Forbes, who previously contested it in 2015. The Conservatives will try to prise it back with local businessman Paul Bristow.

Ex-Tory businessman Mike Greene is to stand for the Brexit party, their first attempt to secure an MP, which comes just two weeks after they won the largest vote share at the European Parliamentary elections.

An attempt to form an alliance of pro-remain parties to support a single candidate collapsed. Representatives of the Liberal Democrats, the Green party, Renew and Change UK failed to reach an agreement on a single independent candidate. The Lib Dems and the Greens are now standing separately, while Change UK will support the Renew candidate Peter Ward.

When will we know the result?

The by-election is on Thursday 6 June. Polls close at 10pm, and the result should be known within a couple of hours.

Candidates announced so far include Lisa Forbes, a Unite official, for Labour; Paul Bristow, a PR executive, for the Conservatives; Beki Sellick, an engineer, for the Lib Dems; Joseph Wells for the Greens; John Whitby for Ukip; Patrick O’Flynn for the Social Democratic party; and Alan “Howling Laud” Hope for the Official Monster Raving Loony party.

The Brexit party has put up Mike Greene, a former contestant on Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire, as a candidate in an area where more than 60% voted to leave in the 2016 EU referendum.

The Conservatives lost Peterborough city council to no overall control in local elections last week, after three years in charge of the consistently marginal authority. Labour remains the second-largest group on the council with 17 seats, followed by the Lib Dems on nine.

Onasanya has said she will not stand in the election. She lost her seat when nearly 30% of her constituents called for a byelection in a recall petition.

  • This article was amended on 9 May 2019. An earlier version stated Peterborough was the first byelection since the 29 March Brexit deadline. It is the first since the second deadline of 12 April.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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