Colin Watson

Peterborough: How to win!

Colin Watson
Peterborough: How to win!
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THIS WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY by-election which brought out the best in Labour's campaigning activists. We fought on a clear message to voters - focusing on the effects of Tory austerity. With an experienced, politically sound and genuine socialist candidate in Lisa Forbes, we got the result that is best for Peterborough and one which gave a lift to Labour supporters throughout the country.

I don't remember detecting defeatism at any point - but it was impossible not to campaign with a degree of anxiety, given the presence of Farage looming over the whole event. The expectation from Camp Brexit and from the mainstream media was that Peterborough would see the dam burst, allowing him a more substantial platform.

We saw US-style campaign rallies for the Brexit Party that drew an audience as much from outside the city as from within it, but having all the superficial image impact of mass support. On the doorstep the overall impression pointed to a close outcome. The same could be said on the streets and in the city centre. There were as many positive conversations with voters as negative, but the divide often seemed to be wide, harsh and uncompromising.

It was amusing to think of the mass of 'journalists' who had descended on the city having to rewrite their copy early on Friday morning. As a campaigner it never felt like anything other than very close. Without doubt the key factor in those last few days, and particularly on polling day of course, was getting out the vote.

At the 2017 general election local activists defeated the Tory incumbent without regional Labour support. This time Labour East were with us from January, helping us take the largest share in the popular vote in the local elections. Their contribution was vital behind the scenes, managing and keeping the focus on the issues that could win it. The local activists who campaigned for many months to get five excellent new left wing Labour councillors elected carried that energy into the by-election - which was then supplemented by a tsunami of support from all over the country.

Since the result, the forces that are fighting a socialist PM have extended their comments into the bizarre, the libellous, the threatening and the disappointing. There were bizarre claims of vote rigging, bribery and coercion. Is it not libellous to say a candidate is a “Jew hater” when she has never said, supported or written anything that would in any way substantiate that claim? (

Then there were the threats. Farage and his Brexit Party tapped into divisive and racist attitudes. As always, they motivated supporters with lies and innuendo. We faced assertions that the result wasn't legitimate, using claims intended to invoke Islamaphobic and racist attitudes, claims which attempted to divide the city, attitudes that came straight from the English Defence League (EDL).

Brexit campaigners on the street repeated EDL slogans, linking immigrants to paedophile attacks and claims that “we let too many into the country”. Farage doesn't have to say any of that himself: he knows he has a reservoir of followers that will come out to support him wherever he is. These are the attitudes being fought in communities that should be voting socialist. Therein lies the task for Labour - to demonstrate that Labour policies will serve the many in communities ravaged by austerity.

And finally, there was the disappointment of finding factions within the Parliamentary Labour Party determined to undermine even this most positive of outcomes with their attacks on the leadership and our newly elected MP. If they could only appreciate the commitment and hard work that went into getting Lisa elected, they would understand the anger we feel at their antics. They no doubt feel supported by statements coming from the White House declaring that Jeremy Corbyn would not be allowed to become PM.

Despite these concerns there are positives. It was good to see activists and volunteers from all wings of the party coming together in their desire to see a Labour MP elected. Voters in Peterborough listened to our new MP, to our new Labour councillors, to our activists. We have the means and the message to go on to better times for the city.

For The Many, Not the Few!

Peterborough CLP