Congratulations to Lisa Forbes the newly elected person to represent the constituency of Peterborough (she will only become and MP when she has taken the oath sometime next week. ) There are all sorts of winners and losers from last night’s result but probably the biggest loser would be anyone who is going to try and predict where this takes British politics over the near term. It was a by election and they are unpredictable creatures at the best of time. In current febrile atmosphere that unpredictability can be multiplied by a factor of 100 or 1000 or whatever multiple of ten you might wish to use.
All that being said I am sure that it will be used by all the parties concerned to predict the future and claim victory for their vision of the future. The first one to do this will be Jeremy Corbyn. He has had terrible time over the past few weeks and it would be only natural for he and his supporters to argue that this proves that things are nothing like as bad for the Labour Party under Jeremy as their political enemies within the party would have you believe. They may well say that this proves when the voters are asked to support Labour they still will. Whether this is true only time will tell but if I were a Labour party stratiests I would be seriously concerned by the 17% swing against Labour. This doesn’t say much for the party who is facing the collapsing Conservatives (swing of over 20% against) that there swing against was only 17% compared to 20%+. General elections are not won with performances like that.
The second person will be Boris Johnson and his attempt to become the leader of the Conservatives and thereby the Prime Minister (perhaps*). He will no doubt claim that Peterborough shows that the Conservative Party needs a leader who can claw back all those voters they have lost to the Brexit Party and as he is by far the most charismatic person in the race he is the person to do just that. He is also a Brexiter to boot (the European Research Group may well beg to differ on that!) With Boris at the helm the only way is up he will no doubt claim. Again whether this is true will be judged over time however it is fair to point out that Boris is now very much a marmite political force and whilst he might attract Brexiters back from the Brexit Party he is likely to drive as many voters away from the Conservatives. Then there is the trust question. Can you trust Boris to do what he says he is going to do? I will leave the Conservative Party members to answer that one.
The third person who could claim to be happy with this result would be Nigel Farage. Afterall in the time it has taken Change UK to form and then collapse he has created a political force that has shaken much of the established political thinking. The only problem was that even with a 29% swing to the Brexit Party they lost and Nigel Farage has yet again fallen short when it comes to the need for political organisation compared to political bombast. No wonder he disappeared from the count early, refusing to talk to the media (possibly a first, not talking to the media that is rather than losing in Westminster elections.)
In the end no one can truly know what the result last night really means beyond that Lisa Forbes won. Let her enjoy her moment of success and leave the rest for historians of the future to decide what the real meaning of the Peterborough By Election might be.
*A person will only be asked to be Prime Minister if he/she can command a majority in the House of Commons – this is far from certain for any of the potential Conservative leaders including Boris Johnson. If he can’t then we may well be heading for a snap election because it pretty certain Jeremy Corbyn can’t in this parliament.