Disillusioned voters could give Peterborough a Labour MP at the next election according to the Shadow Chancellor who visited the city to speak to party supporters.
John McDonnell, the front-bencher and right-hand man to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, believes voters in Peterborough are fed up with the policies of the current Conservative government and are ready to transfer their support to his party.
But with the Conservatives currently ruling the city council and Conservative Stewart Jackson having won a third term as Peterborough MP in last year’s general election, it would require the electorate to switch their votes to Labour for it to take control of the area.
Yet Mr McDonnell believes Peterborough is a constituency which could have a Labour MP from 2020 due to frustration at low wages and Conservative policies nationally.
Certainly, Labour made Peterborough a target seat in 2015, sending in some of its most high-profile politicians such as Yvette Cooper and John Prescott to drum up support among local voters.
And after its candidate Lisa Forbes reduced Mr Jackson’s majority to under 2,000, Mr McDonnell is confident that the next Labour candidate to stand against the incumbent MP has a good chance of unseating him in four years’ time, and that there could be a surprise in May’s city council election where all members will be standing.
Speaking last night (Thursday, January 21) at The Fleet Community Centre in Fletton to launch the North Cambridgeshire branch of Momentum (the organisation which supports the Labour leader) Mr McDonnell said: “It’s like every other city around the country at the moment, we’ve got to rebuild our industrial base and make sure people have decent wages and working conditions.
“Peterborough like other places has low wages. So one of the issues we will be talking about is how we invest in the long-term in places like this to make sure we have quality jobs with decent pay.
“Investment in broadband in a place like this could mean you become a leading area for technology in the country.”
He added: “Peterborough is one of the [constituencies] we feel we can win in a general election if we can rebuild our support in this area. And the same in local council elections - we are going for every seat possible.
“And the ideas that we are putting forward now we think will be popular in places like Peterborough.
“I think people are incredibly disillusioned with what the Tories promised them before the last election.
“It’s always going to be tough in these council elections, but I think our candidates are going to put up a good fight. I think we will surprise people.”
Mr Jackson took to Twitter yesterday to criticise Mr McDonnell’s presence in Peterborough and made mention of his personal relationship with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
During the evening Mr McDonnell, who said it was best that he did not comment on what he thought of Mr Jackson, discussed the surprising rise of himself and Mr Corbyn to the top two posts of the Labour Party.
He revealed that Mr Corbyn only received enough nominations from his party’s MPs to stand as a candidate in its leadership elections with 10 seconds to spare before the deadline and that Mr Corbyn had gone to get a cup of tea because he did not think he would get on the ballot.
He also said that his own sudden elevation from backbencher to the summit of the party had been “absolutely startling.”
“I certainly did not expect to be standing here as Shadow Chancellor,” he said.
“It’s been tough - the media has come at us on a daily basis. I do not want to disillusion you but you can’t believe everything you read in the Daily Mail.”
Hitting out at the “vicious” newspapers for trying to get hold of his family, he added: “They’ve dug out an ex-girlfriend from the 1970s I’d forgotten I went out with.”
During an opening address which was followed by a Q&A with the audience, Mr McDonnell warned about a potential forthcoming economic crisis, said he wanted to develop a policy for a universal income, and predicted how Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union would pan out ahead of a forthcoming referendum.
“We think around February 20 Cameron will come back and say this miraculous deal has been done which will then be shredded by his backbenchers,” he said.
“When he comes back with a meaningless deal he will be attacked and the Tories will split.”
He added that Labour will be campaigning for Britain to remain part of the EU.
Other speakers during the evening organised by Momentum North Cambs chair Chris York were Ron Graves – president of the Peterborough Trades Union Council, Jo Rust from Unison, Steve Jansky from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, human rights lawyer, writer and critic Jocelynne Scutt, and George Welch from the RMT.
Labour’s three candidates to stand as Cambridgeshire’s Police And Crime Commissioner in May - Ed Murphy, Ansar Ali and Dave Baigent - were also due to put forward their arguments for why they should be chosen to stand as the party’s nominee.