New Peterborough MP Lisa Forbes on Brexit and improving city education standards in first interview with the PT
On a whiteboard inside the office where Labour plotted their recent by-election victory reads the words “Election update - Labour has (a) good chance” and “stop Brexit Party”.
It is a reminder of the political turmoil this city has faced in the past year since its former MP Fiona Onasanya was charged with perverting the course of justice, leading to her eventual jailing, ousting from Parliament and a high profile election which nearly saw a brand new party claim the seat.
But while tensions continue to rumble on with accusations of electoral fraud (none of which have been proven) and a legal challenge being brought forward by the Brexit Party, residents in the Peterborough constituency now have an MP to address their concerns. And yes, answer their emails.
That MP is Labour’s Lisa Forbes, the defeated candidate in 2015 who returned to secure victory by 683 votes last month. The Peterborough Telegraph was given 30 minutes to interview the former city councillor at the Unite the Union offices in Church Walk, which until Westminster came calling was her place of work.
Although it will not be long until the summer recess, later this year Ms Forbes will undoubtedly be voting on Brexit ahead of the UK’s leaving date of October 31. The PT asked if she would support a second referendum, which four days after our interview became Labour’s official policy.
She said: “I campaigned and said I would support a deal that protects jobs, protects people’s living standards, protects the environment and consumer protections and workers’ rights as well. I’ve not moved from that position.
“So whatever deal they bring forward I will look at and I will listen to the debates in Parliament, and if I feel it’s a good deal for the people of Peterborough and we’re not going to lose people’s jobs or workers’ rights, then I will vote for it.”
More than 62 per cent of Ms Forbes’ constituents voted to Leave. Asked what she would do if the only choice was no deal or a second referendum, she said: “I think it will be absolutely catastrophic (to leave with no deal),” adding that she had been contacted by businesses warning they would be forced to lay off staff.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen. I’m not going to bind my hands now by talking about what-ifs,” she added.
“I don’t think Peterborough can afford a no deal Brexit and I won’t be voting for it.
“I think the Tories do want a deal, and I’m looking forward to them bringing that deal back to Parliament. And if it passes the tests that I talked about I will vote for that deal.”
One of Ms Forbes’ main campaign promises was to try and improve education results in Peterborough, where the city has come second bottom in the Year 6 SATs league tables for the past three years.
She said: “The first thing that I did (after being elected) was have a meeting with the chief executive of Peterborough City Council. We’ve been bumping along the bottom in terms of attainment. For me, it’s really important to find out the reasons why that is.
“It was important for me that we set up some sort of inquiry with council officials, with headteachers and parents and so on. But it came to light during the campaign that there had been an inquiry that Cllr Lynne Ayres (now council cabinet member for education) had conducted.
“So I’ve had a meeting with Gillian Beasley and I’ve asked to see the report.
“I want to get to the bottom of what the report says and speak to headteachers to find out ‘do you feel this is an accurate reflection of where things are? Were you consulted enough? What would you like to see me do as the Member of Parliament now to try and get some resources and see improvements?’”
The rest of the PT’s interview with Ms Forbes will be online at www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk throughout the morning.