Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has been denied its first seat in the UK Parliament, after the opposition Labour Party held on to the seat of Peterborough in eastern England in a tight by-election race.
Despite winning huge support across the UK during last month’s European election, the Brexit Party was edged out by Labour by a margin of 683 votes.
Addressing supporters after the count, Labour candidate Lisa Forbes hailed her party’s victory as a sign that the “politics of division” would not triumph.
Forbes, a union activist, won 10,484 votes, beating the Brexit party’s Mike Greene, who took 9,801 votes. Prime Minister Theresa May’s governing Conservatives came third, with 7,243 votes, while the Liberal Democrats took 4,159 votes. Turnout was 48%.
The result is something of a setback for the insurgent Brexit Party, which since its launch in April has moved to harness dissatisfaction among traditional Labour and Conservative voters, many of whom have grown frustrated at the inability of traditional parties to deliver Brexit.
Led by Farage, the former head of the UK Independence Party, the Brexit Party has advocated for a no-deal departure from the European Union. At last month’s European Parliament election in the UK, the party secured 31.71% of the overall vote – the largest share for a single political party.
Despite his party failing to secure the seat, Farage hailed the result as a “fundamental” change in British politics.
“Two party politics is no longer going to be business as usual,” he told CNN. “Something very big is changing here – a huge number of people don’t trust the existing political parties.”
Labour’s victory was marred by an anti-Semitism controversy. In the final days of the campaign, it was revealed that Forbes had liked a post on Facebook that said British Prime Minister Theresa May had a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda.”
Forbes said she hadn’t seen the text but was reacting to the accompanying images of children praying after the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand.
In another Facebook comment, Forbes said she had “enjoyed reading” posts that claimed Islamic extremism had been stoked by the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
After her victory, Forbes said she was not anti-Semitic. “I think anti-Semitism is abhorrent,” she she told Sky News. “I just hope that people will understand that I don’t have a bad bone in my body towards any race of people and anti-Semitism is something that I condemn completely.”
Two official complaints have been filed against Forbes over the issue.
One of the complaints came from Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who said she had “seriously mixed feelings about the Peterborough result.”
“I never want to see Nigel Farage’s party in Parliament. But Lisa Forbes & the Labour Party have a lot to answer for,” she tweeted.
Europe figured strongly in the Peterborough campaign. The city voted overwhelmingly for Brexit during the 2016 referendum and again for the Brexit Party at the recent European elections.
The failure of the Conservatives to secure a higher share of the final vote could now galvanize those inside the party who feel that in order to beat Labour at the next general election – and neutralize the threat posed by Farage – they must support a more hard-line supporter of Brexit for their next leader.
For Labour supporters, the result will likely provide a boost following the party’s poor showing at the European elections – and help ease pressure on leader Jeremy Corbyn.
In a statement posted early Friday morning UK time, Corbyn declared the result a rejection of “Tory austerity” and praised what he described as the party’s “people powered campaign.”
“Despite the divisions and deadlock over Brexit, when it comes to issues that directly affect people’s lives, Labour’s case for real change has strong support across the country,” said Corbyn.
The by-election was triggered when the incumbent Labour lawmaker, Fiona Onasanya, was ousted by constituents in a recall petition, owing to a conviction in relation to a speeding offense.
Anna Stewart contributed reporting.