Peterborough the centre of the political world ahead of by-election

High-profile spats, party leaders relaxing in a Millfield restaurant and Boris Johnson delivering speeches at the Bretton Centre. No, this is not Peterborough’s future if MPs move here while Parliament is repaired, but a snapshot of the past week as the city geared up for one of the most high-profile by-elections in recent political history.

Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 7:33 pm
Boris Johnson at the Bretton Centre

No matter where you go, whether it be in a quiet residential street or the city centre, it’s been nearly impossible to avoid the build-up to today’s vote which will see the country’s media descend upon Peterborough.

Jeremy Corbyn has visited enough times to call it a second home, while so many Conservative leadership hopefuls have made their way here that they could hold a hustings in Bridge Street.

At peak times you could not walk five paces without bumping into a political activist in Bridge Street, and when the circus departs elsewhere the ones who will be most disappointed will be the café owners who have done roaring trade over the past few weeks.

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Boris Johnson at the Bretton Centre

In particular, the final week of campaigning has seen a relentless stream of politicians descend upon Peterborough. Last Thursday brought back memories of the 2010 General Election with Gordon Brown and Vince Cable both visiting, albeit in vastly different circumstances.

While outgoing Lib Dem leader Mr Cable could be found upstairs in a relaxed Lithuanian restaurant with candidate Beki Sellick ahead of a speech at a Hindu temple, Mr Brown was ushered into the Holiday Inn, Thorpe Wood, with large security to deliver a speech urging Peterborough’s voters to turn their back on Nigel Farage’s “divisive nationalism”.

Nigel Farage at the former Broadway Theatre

In a passionate address alongside his party’s candidate Lisa Forbes, the former Labour Prime Minister compared Brexit Party leader Mr Farage to Marine Le Pen, Russian Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and said he ‘demonises’ immigrants.

Asked for its response, the Brexit Party stated: “Gordon Brown has a seriously brass neck. He represents a party that is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for antisemitism.

“You can feel the fear of the success of the Brexit Party in his voice – he is right to be electorally worried.”

The same day also saw a visit from former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who spoke to the PT alongside the party’s candidate Joseph Wells.

Gordon Brown meets a supporter alongside Lisa Forbes at the Holiday Inn. Photo: Terry Harris

It was then a case of moving on from leaders past to leaders present and possibly future, with Mr Corbyn, Mr Farage and Boris Johnson all coming up. Mr Johnson was here first, causing a stir among shoppers at the Bretton Centre and delivering a rallying cry to Conservative activists alongside candidate Paul Bristow.

In typical Boris-speak, he said the Tories are going to “make sure that Jeremy Corbyn and his cadre of krypto-Communist, Hugo Chavez admiring, antisemitism condoning, apologists for the Kremlin never get anywhere near the keys of Downing Street”.

Mr Corbyn, who joined Ms Forbes on Saturday, used slightly different language when he addressed Labour activists, telling them: “This election campaign is about asserting those core Labour values.

“A Labour government will end austerity, a Labour government will invest in the future and a Labour government will deal with the crucial issue that we all face, that of climate change and the environment.”

Beki Sellick with Vince Cable. Photo: Terry Harris

At the same time, across at the former Broadway Theatre, Mr Farage was in bullish mood as he spoke to a packed rally.

He said the visit by Gordon Brown meant the Brexit Party “must be doing quite well”, and that if Mike Greene becomes the party’s first MP then “we will have (the establishment) on the run”.

Mr Greene, meanwhile, was asked by the PT for his thoughts on comments made by new MEP Ann Widdecombe. During an interview on the Ridge on Sunday programme Ms Widdecombe said: “The fact that we now think it is quite impossible for people to switch sexuality doesn’t mean that science may not yet produce an answer at some stage.”

Ahead of a rally at The Cresset on Tuesday evening, Mr Greene insisted being homosexual is not something that needs to be questioned, and that his party welcomes people from all backgrounds.

He told the PT: “I did not hear the conversation, and what we have seen in recent weeks are many examples of conversations being taken out of context. I don’t feel fully qualified to talk about what was said or not said.

“But the Brexit Party is an inclusive party. We can’t choose who we fall in love with and being gay is not something you need to cure.”

Joseph Wells and Natalie Bennett at Fletton Quays. Photo: Terry Harris

Sunday also saw the SDP hold its national conference at the Great Northern Hotel.

Among those attending alongside party candidate Patrick O’Flynn were Suzanne Evans, a former leading member of UKIP, and national newspaper columnist Rod Liddle.

Mr Liddle said: “Patrick O’Flynn is the established Brexit campaigner in this contest. Thanks to him people can vote for a pro-Brexit party that also wants to invest more in the public services like the NHS, schools and the police.”

If that wasn’t enough, among the Conservative leadership candidates to pop up was Rory Stewart who has grabbed attention on social media by posting a series of videos inviting the public to chat with him in different parts of the UK. Mr Stewart could be seen debating Brexit Party supporters in Bridge Street before tweeting out what appeared to be a selfie.

Let’s hope he didn’t cycle to get there, otherwise it will have been an expensive trip.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn campaigning with the party's prospective parliamentary candidate Lisa Forbes in Peterborough ahead of the upcoming by-election. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
SDP Spring Conference at the Great Northern Hotel. William Clouston (leader), Suzanne Evans, Rod Liddle and Patrick O'Flynn EMN-190206-182834009