As the General Election campaign continues to unfold, the team at Cavendish have been on the front lines to bring you their view on some of the key constituencies that are being contested across the country. This first dispatch comes from Peterborough, a key battleground in Cambridgeshire currently held by the Labour Party and which the Conservative Party must win back if they hope to be returned to Parliament with a functioning majority.
A historic cathedral city and commuter town with an ethnically diverse population, Peterborough has enjoyed significant growth in recent years, but continues to suffer from high levels of deprivation. This will have only been exacerbated by the recent collapse of Thomas Cook, whose head office was based in Peterborough and was a major local employer in the constituency.
Considered to be a bellwether constituency, Peterborough voted to leave the European Union at the 2016 Referendum and has for many years been a key marginal. The constituency was narrowly won by the Labour Party in 2017 by Fiona Onasanya who unseated Conservative incumbent Stewart Jackson (who held the seat between 2005-2015) by a slim majority of 600 votes.
Fiona Onasanya’s conviction for perverting the course of justice and subsequent recall by voters in 2019 triggered a by-election, and although local councillor Lisa Forbes held the seat for Labour, the Brexit Party ran a close second, buoyed by a collapse in support for the Conservatives (led at the time by Theresa May) and riding the momentum of their recent victories in the European Parliament elections.
However, it should be noted that while the Conservatives were pushed into third place in the by-election, the share of the vote won by Conservative Candidate Paul Bristow held up more robustly than expected. This split the vote and allowed Lisa Forbes to come through the middle and claim the spoils. We should also remember that by-elections are very different from national elections and this third election in three years looks set to revert to the traditional contest between Labour and the Conservatives.
Recent polling suggests a significant drop in support for the Brexit Party as many Eurosceptics return to the Conservatives in order to back the new Withdrawal Deal negotiated by Boris Johnson. The Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn also remains a controversial figure and many floating voters (as well as some traditional Labour supporters) have indicated their reluctance to to vote for a Corbyn Government.This has been reflected by the experience of activists on the doorstep and confidence remains high that the Peterborough constituency can be won back by Paul Bristow for the Conservatives.
That being said, despite their recent drop in fortunes, the Brexit Party remains a key threat to the Tory right flank. Their candidate Mike Green is outspoken and high profile, while the Labour incumbent Lisa Forbes enjoys a strong base and name recognition from her time as a city councillor.
If the Conservatives are to return to Government, Peterborough is exactly the kind of seat that is must be taken and the cathedral city will certainly be a battleground to watch as the General Election campaign progresses.