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Friday 7 June 2019

It wasn’t to be, but there are some mighty positives to draw from last night’s by-election result in Peterborough, as Sir John Curtice put it: we are now in a “different political world”. Labour retained the seat, beating the Brexit Party by just 683 votes (see results below).

The amplitude of this phenomenal achievement by Nigel Farage’s party will soon recede into the background. Before that happens, a reminder that the party is only eight weeks old and the Labour victory was extradentary limp, the party’s 30% vote share is the lowest ever winning percentage in a by-election.

Which brings us onto the most important take away from this ballot: there is no longer any room for the Conservatives in marginal seats like Peterborough – which voted 61% Leave in 2016 – voting Tory risks a Labour MP, and with it the danger of a government led by Jeremy Corbyn – he who would rather throw down the red carpet for Hamas than President Trump.

Nigel Farage reminded Today Programme listeners this morning that Brexit is the number one issue for most Brits by some margin. According to YouGov, it’s a major concern for 67% of voters, way ahead of health, crime, and the economy – 32%, 25% and 25% respectively. As a consequence, British politics has turned into a gang of four with the Brexit Party facing off the Lib-Dems as the two major parties addressing Brexit directly.

Labour are too frightened to take a firm line on Britain’s withdrawal from the European. The Conservatives are no braver. Theresa May’s deal is a Remainer fudge, honouring the referendum result only in the sense that Britain would cease to be an EU member state.

“Failure. Failure,” said Farage when asked to comment on Mrs May on ITV this morning. Today is her last as Tory leader.

“It was a huge mistake to put someone in as Prime Minister who voted Remain. To deliver Brexit, you actually have to believe in it, because you’ve got to stand up against many in the political class, and I’m afraid she just never believed in it.”

The Brexit Party are a rare proposition in believing in Brexit. According to YouGov, they are six points ahead of the Lib Dems and Labour. The Tories languish in fourth.

In light of this poll, how did Labour manage to win in pro-independence Peterborough you might ask? The parliamentary Labour Party’s clear preference for remaining in the EU will have gone down badly with the many many Leavers in the constituency, and the Labour candidate was truly dreadful, choosing to attend a showy event with Gordon Brown rather than a local hustings and likeing an anti-Semitic Facebook post. Lisa Forbes stood in 2015 and lost. So how did she win this time around?

Labour were extremely well organised on the ground. The previous MP’s jail sentence was predicted long ago, giving her party ample time – more than the Brexit Party’s eight weeks – to dust off the databanks and start badgering known Labour voters. Turnout in 2017 was 67.5%, compared to yesterday’s 48.5%. This was a case of the hardcore Labour voters coming out in droves. Had more independent-minded voters made their way to the polls, the result would have been different.

As Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of conservative think tank, the Bow Group pointed out below, Labour suffered a staggering 17.2% drop in support. The Brexit Party were up 28.9% from a standing start.

“The Peterborough result should deeply worry the Tories. Even if the Brexit party didn’t win, it shows what might happen at the next general election: BXP squeezes its vote and Labour sneaks in. Unless they deal with Farage, he’ll help deliver a Corbyn government,” tweeted FT commentator Sebastian Payne.

Also covered on this morning’s Today programme was a report on Leave.EU’s deselection campaign. You can hear what our chairman, Arron Banks said below. Dominic Grieve is up for deselection yet again this evening. Justice secretary David Gauke will also face a no-confidence motion later this month. Anna Soubry, who jumped before she could be told to leave, claims she’s being bullied. It’s justice, and we’ve not sensed a hint of malice. If you represent a party in parliament you are obliged to honour its values. It’s is as simple as that, no need to dramatise. Soubry is, of course, one of the only remaining members of disintegrating Change UK.

In Brexit news, Brussels appears to be looking to make life easier for a pro-EU/pro-deal moderate Tory leadership contenders like Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid by toning down the language on the backstop and raising the previously ruled out prospect of a time limit on the backstop, which would probably be enough to get a Commons majority.

The BBC’s Brussels correspondent reports EU diplomats insist the backstop is not “a slab of marble”. The EU will seek to fudge a cut off date with a typically complex series of stages.

The prospect of No Deal is making the EU nervy, but only a pro-Brexit prime minister will make them squeal.