How a seismic night in Peterborough’s politics unfolded

Fiona Onasanya with Labour supporters
Fiona Onasanya with Labour supporters

Not even Lazarus could come back from the dead again.

Two years ago Stewart Jackson compared himself to the Biblical character, who was resurrected by Jesus, after salvaging his political career with a narrow General Election victory.

But now after 12 years as MP for Peterborough the outspoken Conservative politician will be in for a big shock when he wakes up later today and reflects on what to do next in his career.

The talk before Thursday’s vote was on how many votes Mr Jackson would win by, with the polls indicating a Tory victory and UKIP not running a candidate in Peterborough.

But it became clear in the early hours of Friday morning that a comfortable win was not going to happen.

The national exit poll suggesting a hung parliament was the first indicator (not that Ms Onasanya knew anything about it as she was watching a re-run of Britain’s Got Talent), but then came the result for the Peterborough City Council by-election in East ward where the Labour and Co-operative candidate, Matthew Mahabadi, won by nearly 800 votes to take a seat previously held by the Conservatives.

Stewart Jackson

Stewart Jackson

The counting of votes in the Peterborough constituency for the General Election then began at around 1am, and Labour activists were soon making noises that they were pleased with the results which had been counted.

Voting piles in Central and North wards showed clear Labour wins in those areas, they claimed.

One Labour councillor said the result was “better than they had expected,” while there was talk of worried-looking Conservatives in the room where the counting was taking place at the East of England Arena and Events Centre.

The real drama then began as the clock ticked past 2am with counting finished and all the candidates brought together to check on the spoiled ballots.

A large crowd quickly formed around them and the press pack stared intently to try and work out from the facial expressions who might have won. Frustratingly, they all demonstrated excellent poker faces.

The wait for any news to replace the storm of gossip declaring a Labour win felt like an eternity, although it was probably no more than 10 minutes.

One Tory activist could be seen crossing his fingers. It was never meant to be this stressful he declared.

Soon news spread that Labour’s Fiona Onasanya was 600 votes in the lead, but that a recount of bundles of votes had been ordered. It just added to the huge amount of tension in the room.

Mr Jackson had earlier in the evening said he was “quietly confident” of victory, a far-cry from his appearance two years earlier where he looked far less assured of his chances.

But closing in on 3am loud chanting from inside the arena suddenly erupted as the recount finished.

If there was any doubt as to who had won that was soon finished with the Labour jubilation beginning long before the candidates made it onto the stage for the formal declaration.

Chants of ‘taxi for Jackson’ rang out as the celebrations began from a political party often at the end of the former MP’s sharp tongue.

And once the result was finally announced there were large cheers, with one woman becoming tearful, while many hugged or jumped for joy.

“Three times loser you said,” shouted out one man, referencing Mr Jackson’s victory speech from two years ago where he attacked the Labour Party.

This time, though, there was only humility. Ms Onasanya was an “exemplary candidate” who had been “gracious and charming,” he said.

Ms Onasanya’s victory speech was short and sweet. “I’m so grateful for you choosing to make a voice for change. You’ve made your choice, now let’s make the change,” she said.

Green Party candidate Fiona Radic drew a laugh when she said she was “astonished” to have got more than one vote.

As the candidates left the stage there were loud chants of “Fiona, Fiona” from the jubilant Labour supporters.

As they celebrated, and the press began to hunt down the new MP, several people went to shake Mr Jackson’s hand, including his old adversary Ed Murphy, a Labour and Co-operative city councillor.

So after 12 years, Peterborough has turned from blue back to red.

But with the country waking up to a hung parliament, could we be doing it all again in a few months?

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