Farage’s Brexit party aims for first UK MP in by-election
Fresh from its victory in European polls, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is hoping to win its first seat in Britain’s parliament on Thursday in a by-election in Peterborough.
The poll in the eastern English cathedral city was triggered after the sitting MP, Fiona Onasanya, was dumped by voters after being jailed for lying over a speeding offence.
The Brexit Party, formed by eurosceptic figurehead Farage only a few months ago, secured 38 percent of the vote in Peterborough in May 23 elections for the European Parliament.
It is hoping to capitalise on that momentum as well as voter disillusionment with the main Conservative and Labour parties, who have historically shared the seat.
Both parties were punished by voters in the European polls for the political chaos over Brexit, which has forced out Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May.
Onasanya was a Labour MP but was expelled following her conviction and the party is fighting to keep the seat.
It got 17 percent of the vote in Peterborough in the European polls, while the Conservatives secured just 11 percent, level with the Greens. The pro-European Liberal Democrats got 15 percent.
May is stepping down after delaying Brexit twice as she tried and failed to get her EU divorce deal through parliament.
Farage, who has called for Britain to leave the bloc without a deal, said the by-election outcome could top the European result.
“Our political establishment was absolutely mortified by what happened,” he said while campaigning in Peterborough last weekend.
“But in some ways what happens here on Thursday is even bigger… the opportunity for the next chapter in this great story.”
The Brexit Party’s candidate is Mike Greene, a local businessman. The Labour candidate is the Unite trade union activist Lisa Forbes.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has visited the city, saying the party’s campaign was about local issues and climate change.
“We take that core Labour message out to all the doors of bringing our society and our community together… to ensure we maintain that trading relationship with our nearest neighbours in Europe and to ensure that we get a Labour government at the end of this,” he said.
Fifteen candidates are standing. Four pro-EU parties were planning to stand a joint ‘Remain’ candidate — Femi Oluwole, a campaigner for a new Brexit referendum.
During the 2016 Brexit referendum, 62 percent in the wider Peterborough area voted to leave the EU.
In the 2017 general election, Onasanya narrowly won the seat for Labour by 607 votes, or a 1.3 percent margin, from the Conservative Stewart Jackson, who had been the MP since 2005.
The 35-year-old lawyer was sentenced in January to three months in prison for perverting the course of justice.
She was released on licence after four weeks and returned to sit in parliament as an independent MP, wearing an electronic surveillance tag.
Under a new law introduced in 2015, her conviction trigged a recall petition which was backed by 28 percent of eligible voters.
The polls close at 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) and the by-election result is expected early Friday.