EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Life-changing election victory for Peterborough's new MP
Few thought Fiona Onasanya would have a prayer of dethroning Peterborough's sitting MP Stewart Jackson, so as she took the acclaim of her jubilant Labour supporters after her stunning election victory last month, it was perhaps no surprise that she put her hands together and gave thanks to God.
A dominant, outspoken personality in Mr Jackson had been dethroned by a woman who until recently had the words ‘flower tot’ in her Twitter handle. It was one of many surprises on a night when the Conservatives were expected to romp to victory with more ease than the German football team.
But Ms Onasanya’s 607 vote win was a triumph for a woman who grew up with her mum and brother in Cambridge before turning her hand to law and then politics, all while being guided by a faith which shapes her whole being.
“My faith is very, very important. I like to take care of what I call my ‘spirit man’ which is to make sure that I’m always positive and looking at the best in things. My faith shapes my perspective,” she said.
“When I won the election I put my hands together, looked up and said ‘thank you and thank you’. Without Him I could not do this. That is my belief.”
Ms Onasanya met the Peterborough Telegraph last week for a wide-ranging interview where she spoke openly about her childhood and how it shaped her into the person she is today.
The Labour MP spoke enthusiastically throughout the interview, never refusing to answer a question, and most of her responses revolved around her faith and her desire to help people, both of which were instilled into her from a young age.
The 33-year-old was born in Cambridge but her parents split when she was three. Dad Frank is now a district councillor in Ontario, Canada, and runs a football training academy, while mum - who Ms Onasanya says is known as Lady P - teaches English as a foreign language and is a landlady.
Mum was born in London and dad in Nigeria, where the couple met before coming to live in England.
“My parents did split up when I was very young, but that hasn’t had a negative effect as you can see from what’s been achieved,” said Ms Onasanya.
“I want to encourage people that actually you don’t have to come from a nuclear family to get this far. You don’t have to go to a private school to get this far.”
She remains in contact with her dad and said they enjoy a good relationship. “He sent me a beautiful message when I’d won the election,” she said.
Ms Onasanya also has a younger brother called Festus. She said: “We’re very, very close. He sings - he was actually on a TV show called Pitch Battles. It was on BBC 1. He sings with a gospel group called A-Flame.”
The MP went to state school in Cambridge and achieved 11 GCSEs and four A Levels (mostly Bs, she said) before going to the University of Hertfordshire to study law.
Her reason for wanting to become a solicitor - later specialising in commercial property law - is the same reason why she wanted to become a politician (and it’s not the money).
“I went into law because I wanted to help people. People are my passion. From that it’s led me onto this path of politics,” she said.
“I felt throughout my time of studying law that commercial property was the least contentious, most positive way to find a good resolution between parties, whether it’s trying to negotiate between developers to look at brownfield sites rather than greenbelt land, whether it is someone saying ‘I’d like to buy a house and you’d like to sell a house’, whereas in other areas of law it’s not always a happy ending. Like family law or indeed criminal law.
“I wouldn’t want to send someone innocent to prison, or vice versa try and negotiate terms for someone that maybe should go to prison.
“I found that property law was really the most happy place.”
A solicitor at DC Law before becoming an MP, Ms Onasanya moved to Peterborough in 2014 to get on the housing ladder.
Asked what her driving force in life has been, she said: “I don’t just think it’s my background, I think it’s my faith. I was brought up - for want of a better expression - in a Christian family.
“But my mum was always very positive, and one of the things I said at a school I was at last Friday was ‘the sky is not the limit when there’s footsteps on the moon’.”