Peterborough by-election liveblog: Labour HOLD

Sienna Rodgers

Welcome to LabourList’s Peterborough by-election liveblog. Polls closed at 10pm and results are expected in the ‘early hours’. This liveblog has now closed.

02.30 So, a Labour win in Peterborough. Lisa Forbes has been elected with a majority of 683 votes. Thank you for all those who stuck with us through this liveblog tonight. I’ll be back in the morning with the LabourList daily email – sign up if you aren’t already subscribed!

02.27 Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has congratulated the new MP on Twitter “for running a people-powered campaign”.

He says the result shows Labour’s anti-austerity message cut through, bypassing Brexit as the main issue for voters at the ballot box.

02.18 The speech I was quoting from earlier, in full:

02.10 It’s only official when you get tagged in a graphic by your region. Labour East congratulates Lisa Forbes in this tweet.

02.07 Those results in full:

02.04 Speaking after her win, Forbes says, “The fact the Brexit party has been rejected in our city shows the politics of division will not win. I promise to work tirelessly for Peterborough, to make it a city we can be proud of. That work starts now.”

02.00 Amid chants, of “Lisa, Lisa, Lisa”, the returning officer confirms Lisa Forbes is the new Labour MP for Peterborough, having won 10,484 votes.

01.56 The BBC’s Iain Watson has just posted this… the declaration is imminent.

01.52 More messages of support suggesting Labour have won, this time from NEC member Huda Elmi, before the official results have been announced.

01.49 According to Labour MP Louise Haigh, Nigel Farage’s big moment at the count has been cancelled.

01.45 Labour’s NEC youth rep Lara McNeill has tweeted her thoughts on the by-election, noting that, regardless of whether Labour trounces the Tories, the party needs “to be better still”. McNeill also outlines her views on the party’s Brexit policy, suggesting better communication of party policy will be key to assisting Labour’s future electoral success.

01.41 Sky is now showing a live image of the podium where the declaration of results is going to occur. Ridge says sources are confirming we’ll know the outcome in just 20 minutes…

01.35 Back to This Week, Andrew Neil quotes shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry speaking as polls closed in the European elections, saying Labour should come out and campaign for a second referendum. Carden criticises Neil’s questioning, responding “This is the desperate attempt to put Labour into a box that says you only represent 48% or 52%. I believe in a policy that unites the country.”

01.29 Labour activists and MPs alike want to go to bed. But stay up, because it could all be over very soon. Really.

01.25 Jones is reporting that Labour has won the by-election, and Sophy Ridge echoes the news, although reiterates that nothing is official as yet. We could yet see a recount demanded by the Brexit Party, particularly if the vote is as close as some are suggesting.

01.21 Well this is cryptic…

01.17 Reliably accurate psephologist John Curtice to explains to This Week that, despite the Brexit Party’s resounding victory in Peterborough at the European elections, the same result is unlikely to be repeated at this by-election. Both FPTP and the difference in regional and national polling mean the race is set to be much tighter against Labour.

01.09 Labour’s candidate Lisa Forbes has now shown up to the count, papped by BBC Cambridgeshire. Nigel Farage has yet to be seen…

01.05 Every pundit, including Labour’s acting shadow secretary of state for international development Dan Carden, suggests to Andrew Neil that the result is too close to call. Wild speculation is rife, particularly on Twitter.

00.57 A short video on This Week asks the Peterborough candidates about “the big issues affecting Peterborough”. Interestingly, only the Lib Dem candidate mentioned Brexit. Lisa Forbes sticks to her campaign message of crime and the effects of austerity.

00.51 Owen Jones no doubt echoing Lisa Forbes’ own thoughts right now:

00.47 Britain Elects has just published a new YouGov Westminster poll. Emulating every other major poll being published at the moment, the Brexit Party are son top at 26%. In this poll, Labour and Lib Dems are joint second.

00.43 There is something of an idolising tone taken by the Sky News journalists waiting for Farage. He may be the most famous politician turning up to tonight’s events and there may not be much going on at the moment, but discussing how much he smokes seems far too adoring to constitute worthwhile reporting /rant.

00.38 Sky News reporters are getting very excited waiting for Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage to appear at the count in Peterborough Town Hall. “He’s been to the local pub”, they say, commenting as though the concept is both unique and interesting. Brexit Party candidate Mike Greene was less interesting to the reporters especially as, when asked, he suggested he had no idea of the result as yet.

00.29 Meanwhile, on the BBC, Stella Creasy is on This Week discussing the possibility of passing a People’s Vote motion at this year’s party conference. Responding to Andrew Neil asking “What’s the chance you might get your way?”, the MP for Walthamstow says “I think it’s a real possibility.” She adds, “The Labour party is what its members make of it. Decisions are being made in CLPs across the country and I hope they’re going to go that way.”

00.20 Writer Liam Young has tweeted similar thoughts on what a Labour win would mean, with an additional point – if Labour wins this election, it speaks volumes about how Labour could perform in a future general election.

00.15 Ayesha Hazarika, Ed Miliband’s former adviser, is now talking to Ridge about how local activists have become more positive about their chances in the last hour, and what this means for the Brexit Party. “If the Brexit Party cannot win here, is just it a lot of bluster? Does it mean Nigel Farage cannot convert his hubris into a parliamentary seat?”

00.08 Dan Carden, appearing on Sky News, is playing the expectation management game. “This is a difficult election. There’s been a real attempt to turn this into another proxy vote, another referendum… I’m hopeful that our message – talking about residents’ lives and issues that affect them – has cut through.”

00.02 Momentum, the organisation that grew out of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, says it was able to mobilise nearly 1,000 activists activists to do phone or door-to-door canvassing in the run up to this by-election.

This figure includes:

  • Campaigners who carpooled from North Wales, London, Winchester, Leeds, Grantham, Leicester, Brighton, Bretton, Manchester, Northampton and Norwich. 
  • Those who made thousands of calls using Momentum’s distributed phonebank system, which allows members to canvass from home.
  • Hundreds of activists who joined campaign days in Peterborough.

In Momentum’s plan to win, it was estimated that were around 10,000 target doors and that activists in Peterborough could knock on around 50 doors a day. To help smash this target, the group launched a ‘Momentum Carpool to Peterborough’ Facebook group to help volunteers organise their travel plans.

23.53 FYI, here are Labour’s leaflets from this campaign. As I said, bins and flytipping featured heavily.

23.49 Turnout is apparently 48.4%, which is very good for a by-election and definitely at the upper end of expectations. It’s also very good news for Labour, suggesting that the party managed to turn out its core voters today. Labour promises from the Muslim community in Peterborough were holding up very well – a big contributor to this result is whether those voters got to the polls.

23.44 This is a key point for Labour: a win for Lisa Forbes will bolster the argument often made by Jeremy Corbyn and the leader’s office that Brexit isn’t everything. Forbes’ leaflets focussed on the failures of the local Tory-run council – flytipping and infrequent rubbish collections, the bread-and-butter issues.

Labour wants to unite the country, not pick either the 52% or the 48% and deepen the dividing line drawn by Brexit. To win a by-election now, in a very marginal 2016 Leave-voting seat, would be evidence that Labour can run a winning campaign on local issues against all the odds.

23.34 The important thing to keep in mind here is that whatever happens tonight, everyone in the Labour Party will claim the results prove their side of the Brexit debate has been proven right. Just as they have done in the local elections and the European elections.

To some, a Labour loss to the Brexit Party will suggest the party has lost Leave voters because it has made positive noises about another referendum. To others, the same loss – if combined with an increase in Lib Dem vote share, which is likely as they only got 1,597 votes in 2017 – will indicate that Remainers didn’t turnout for Labour due to Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to give straightforward backing for another referendum.

23.19 James Calmus, my partner who works on digital for LabourList and may take over the liveblog at some point tonight, has a report on the Peterborough digital campaigns:

Our analysis of Facebook’s ad library shows a stark difference in paid advertising by the two parties currently in play in Peterborough.

Labour East, the Facebook page Labour has used to run its targeted ads, has paid for up to £1,800 worth of advertisements to Peterborough residents.

That may seem a lot, but by comparison the Brexit Party has spent up to £15,599 on targeted Facebook advertising.

Notably, all of their ads have focused on the issue of Brexit and not a single one has mentioned local issues.

Although Facebook doesn’t provide exact numbers for advertising costs, these figures show that while Labour’s strength is in its ground campaign, the Brexit Party believes its cause can be won online.

23.16 Labour’s campaign has been complicated by antisemitism. If you’ve seen any Labour MPs tweeting their canvassing pics from Peterborough today, you’ll also see lots of replies underneath criticising them for trying to get Lisa Forbes elected after it emerged that she had liked a Facebook post describing Theresa May as a “Zionist slave master”.

Nobody brought this up on the doorstep when I was there last weekend, and I haven’t heard any other reports of it being raised by voters. But the Jewish Labour Movement has decided not to campaign for Forbes, particularly citing her opposition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.

As one JLM source put it to me earlier: “Much as I don’t want Faragists prospering, Forbes winning is a real problem.” The affiliated group’s members and supporters have expressed disappointment that so many Labour activists – including MPs such as Ed Miliband – travelled to Peterborough to help get Forbes elected.

23.04 Obviously, the Tories are going to lose heavily. According to talkRADIO’s Ross Kempsell, Tory sources say: “Senior campaigning staff now recognising we’ve lost”. Er, did they seriously not recognise that before?

23.01 This is an interesting test of different strengths, apart from anything else. Labour has the historical data and the practised activist base. We know our stuff when it comes to the #Labourdoorstep and GOTV.

But it’s fair to say that the Brexit Party had clearer messaging – obviously – and ran a good digital campaign. I’d recommend this piece on how the Peterborough candidates used targeted Facebook ads. It explains that the Brexit Party said only they can beat “Corbyn’s Labour”, but also – in an ad targeted at younger voters – portrayed the race as a choice between Brexit and the Lib Dems. Clever.

22.56 To prove my point, here is someone reporting the exact opposite:

22.55 This sort of comment (below) is basically meaningless, but I’ll include it anyway. The bottom line is that nobody knows what’s just happened, though most assume it will be a close call.

22.53 This by-election prediction reckons the Brexit Party will win with 32% vote share, Labour on 27%, then the Tories way behind on 17% and Lib Dems fourth on 12%:

22.48 Just had my dinner in 12 minutes. Anyway, the Brexit Party is unlikely to have any real idea of how well it’s done today and the briefing reported by Britain Elects is probably just expectation management.

Lots of shadow cabinet members and opposition frontbenchers took the trip to Peterborough to campaign there today:

22.30 Remember when Farage conceded defeat in the early hours of the 2016 referendum night? Labour has a good chance, but let’s wait and see.

22.27 Labour sources reckon it’ll be a close result. But frankly, nobody has a clue. Though according to Britain Elects, local Brexit Party activists have conceded defeat:

22.23 A few months ago, you might have assumed that Labour would be worried about their chances because ex-Labour MP Fiona Onasanya’s conviction could reflect badly on the party. But Labour quickly kicked her out of the party following the conviction, called for her to stand down as an MP and campaigned for the recall petition. Voters didn’t raise the issue on the doorstep. Instead, the main threat has come from Farage’s new outfit.

As I wrote earlier this week, the most surprising thing about Peterborough was seeing how many Brexit Party campaigners had turned out. Of course, Farage’s party doesn’t have Labour’s historical data, but canvassers on polling day are important. A good get-out-the-vote operation is a key advantage when several parties are polling at around the same level.

As Ian Warren @election_data explains: “It’s perfectly possible to win a seat like Peterborough with 30% of the vote. One of the underestimated aspects of a politics with four parties at between 16 and 24 per cent nationally. Effectively lowers the winning number.

“At the next general election, if the current vote share holds, we’re going to see lots of seats where securing 30% is a winning number. Which means an efficient GOTV operation is a distinct advantage.”

22.15 The Tories have been trying to tell voters that “it’s Labour or Conservatives in Peterborough”, Buzzfeed‘s Alex Wickham reports. But everyone expects either the Brexit Party to win, or Labour to scrape through. If Nigel Farage’s party fails to secure the seat, it’ll be a huge disappointment for them.

22.13 I’ve just been told that the result might come out at 5am. That may be based on this tweet:

But also the BBC says between 3am and 4am, while the local paper says between 3am and 5am. Er, slightly regretting starting this liveblog now…

22.10 I wasn’t in Peterborough today – though I did visit last weekend, which you can read about here – but the seat was swamped by hundreds of Labour activists today by all accounts. This morning, I was told 300 were out, and later in the day Labour’s executive director of elections and campaigns tweeted that more than 500 turned up:

I just asked one canvasser who was there today for their thoughts, and they replied: “Hard to tell as we’re canvassing mostly Labour promises. Overall good return but not convinced we will win because of Labour’s pandering to second referendum and the momentum of the Brexit Party on the back of a single issue.”

If you were out canvassing today, get in touch!

22.00 Hello, it’s LabourList editor Sienna Rodgers here. Welcome to our Peterborough by-election liveblog. Polls have just closed in the marginal constituency, where voters have been choosing who to elect as their new MP after successfully booting Fiona Onasanya. We’re expecting the final result in the early hours, probably between 1am and 3am, but stay tuned for further updates in the meantime.

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