The 18 month rise and fall of Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya

A relative unknown Remain supporter in a city which voted heavily for Brexit, Labour's Fiona Onasanya was a surprise victor at the 2017 general election.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 2:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 10:18 am

The property solicitor triumphed by 607 votes over three-time incumbent Stewart Jackson, marking a meteoric rise for a woman who only became involved in politics in 2011 after the secretary of the Cambridge Labour Party overheard her speaking to a friend about the London riots and asked whether she had considered entering politics.

Despite initial scepticism Ms Onasanya went home and read the Labour manifesto before joining the party and winning election onto Cambridgeshire County Council where she became deputy leader of the Labour group.

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Fiona Onasanya

The solicitor at DC Law moved to Peterborough in 2014 to get on the property ladder, and just four years after winning her first election she was on stage at the Showground in Peterborough, hands together in prayer as she took the acclaim of Labour members following her surprise victory in a seat which UKIP had vacated to help Brexiteer Mr Jackson win a fourth term.

It was quite clear speaking to some of her supporters that taking the seat had been unexpected (she compared it to being “thrown in the ocean” during the trial) and problems soon emerged with regular reports of constituents not receiving replies to emails.

In an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph in February she admitted to having 800 unanswered emails as she apologised to constituents for her slow response, but her trial revealed the problem had been far worse, with 1.200 letters waiting for her at Westminster when she started as an MP.

Those who met Ms Onasanya spoke highly of her good nature, whether it be handing over £10 to a rough sleeper or the acronyms which she liked to make up, such as using her maiden speech in the House of Commons to reveal she refers to herself as “MP FI” because she endeavours to “Make People Feel Inspired.”

Even some of her political opponents found it hard to dislike her, and the PT heard regularly from people meeting her for the first time who were struck by her warm personality.

Her pre-election Twitter handle of @fiflowertot also suggested this was not your average politician.

Indeed, as she explained to the PT she is driven heavily by her faith.

Ms Onasanya used her time in Parliament to rally hard against the benefits system Universal Credit, and she was extremely vocal about living conditions for homeless families living at St Michael’s Gate.

Perhaps her most headline-grabbing announcement was her promise to spend more than £800 of her own money every month on free bulky and electrical waste collections to help reduce fly-tipping in the city.

Collections did take place, but there was criticism that not as many as had been promised.

There was even time in Parliament to give a nod to rapper Big Shaq by using similar lyrics to his song Man’s Not Hot which grabbed national attention.

Soon after being elected Ms Onasanya spoke about her hopes of being Britain’s first black, female prime minister, and the vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn was soon being elevated up the Labour ranks as a party whip in charge of maintaining discipline.

With Ms Onasanya sorting out her office problems thanks to the appointment of new staff, it was noticeable the grumbles about slow responses to emails dried up.

An official spokesman was also hired which led to much prompter replied to requests for comment from the PT.

However, there were questions raised about why she was taking trains to London from Cambridge instead of Peterborough (the suggestion was she spent more time in the city of her birth, rather than her constituency), not to mention her views on Brexit.

A Remain voter who promised to “respect the view of the people”, she later signalled her support for a second vote on Brexit, either through another referendum or through a general election.

Yet as the country’s politicians tore itself apart over Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement Ms Onasanya was at the Old Bailey facing a charge of perverting the course of justice charge which the PT had revealed in July.

Remarkably, the prospect of a trial which could fatally derail her political career did not appear to bother her, with Labour members shocked by her calmness and her certainty that she would be acquitted of all charges.

Yet that apparent optimism proved misguided with a jury finding her guilty following a trial which remarkably saw her former campaign manager testify against her and the MP revealing that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Any chance of becoming the first female, black Prime Minister are now gone for good.