By-election defeat checks Brexit Party momentum

By-election defeat checks Brexit Party momentum
Anti-EU populist Nigel Farage. (AP)
Updated 07 June 2019

By-election defeat checks Brexit Party momentum

By-election defeat checks Brexit Party momentum
  • The outcome is a setback for the Brexit Party, founded by euroskeptic figurehead Nigel Farage

PETERBOROUGH, UK: Anti-EU populist Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party failed in its bid to win its first seat in Britain’s parliament, checking its momentum and raising questions about its ability to compete in Westminster.
The by-election in the eastern English city of Peterborough on Thursday was triggered after the sitting MP, Fiona Onasanya, was dumped by voters after being jailed for lying over a speeding offense.
The Brexit Party’s candidate Mike Greene, a local entrepreneur, was the 1-for-8 hot favorite to win the seat, but instead came in second with nearly 29 percent of the vote, behind the main opposition Labour Party’s Lisa Forbes, on 31 percent.
The ruling Conservatives came third with 21 percent.
In Britain’s first past the vote system, it is the winner who counts and gets all the attention, not the losing candidates, however close the result.
On that count, the outcome is a setback for the Brexit Party — founded by euroskeptic figurehead Farage only a few months ago and which was the top dog in the European elections in May with 31.6 percent of votes cast.
It had been seeking to capitalize on that momentum as well as voter disillusionment with the main Conservative and Labour parties, who have historically won the Peterborough seat.
Farage, who has called for Britain to leave the bloc without a deal, said last weekend while campaigning that he saw the contest as “the opportunity for the next chapter in this great story.”
The party had been heavy favorites to win the Leave-voting seat.
But despite losing, their performance will still be a concern to the two main parties.
Labour’s vote share fell by 17 percent from 2017, and was the lowest ever to win a British by-election, while the Conservatives plunged by 25 points.
Leading pollster John Curtice told the BBC the result showed the country was now in a “different political world.”
Farage said: “A lot of constituencies are now looking at four-party politics and perhaps in others five-party politics.”
His party issued a defiant tweet, saying: “If we can come so close in our 201st target seat, no seat is safe.”
But the party will now face comparisons with Farage’s former vehicle UKIP, which performed well in European elections but fell short when it came to Westminster.
Following victory in the 2014 European polls with nearly 28 percent of the vote, UKIP secured just 13 percent — around four million votes — in the next general election a year later, coming in third.
Britain’s first-past-the-post system, which has long proved a barrier for insurgent parties, saw the party win only one seat.
However, with four parties currently at roughly level pegging in the national polls, a lower percentage of the total vote could now return many more seats in a general election.
The Brexit Party has already claimed a major scalp, indirectly forcing Prime Minister Theresa May to announce last month that she would step down as the European election wipeout loomed.
Their trouncing of the Tories is also likely to influence the race to replace her as party leader and prime minister, putting the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal back on the table.
But the Brexit Party still faces many obstacles in shedding its single-issue status and becoming a national election force.
Labour has already honed in on Britain’s beloved National Health Service, which has the potential to divide the Brexit Party’s free-marketeers from those on the left of the political spectrum who fear its privatization.
Farage also blamed the by-election defeat on his party’s lack of infrastructure and data on potential voters, having only formally registered as a political party in early February.