I was asked to stand for Remain in the Peterborough by-election – this is why I said no

Now is not the best time to be running an intense and high-risk campaign in a town I don’t yet know

Femi Oluwole
Friday 10 May 2019 19:16 BST
Femi Oluwole calls out Nigel Farage's former adviser Trixie Sanderson for 'fake news'

I have decided against standing in the Peterborough by-election, and here’s why.

On Tuesday, by complete coincidence, I happened to be in Peterborough. It was there that I got a call telling me that the Greens, the Lib Dems, Change UK and Renew were all keen to put their differences aside, step back from the upcoming Peterborough by election and throw their support behind a pro-Remain, pro-people’s vote candidate. Such a level of cross party cooperation is truly incredible – and exactly the right response to the national crisis we currently face. My biggest fear is that by not standing, the parties do not continue to seek a Remain alliance going forward. I really hope they do.

I have a huge amount of respect for all of the politicians who came up with this idea and am honoured they considered me. Caroline Lucas’ support particularly moved me. I trust her more than anyone else in UK politics right now, and I hugely regret disappointing her.

I sought advice from everyone I could: fellow activists, politicians, friends and family. In the end, the decision not to stand rests on my shoulders. Here are my reasons.

First, there was a very real possibility that my taking part in that by-election would take votes from Labour and help Nigel Farage (via his Brexit Party candidate) get his foot in the door of the UK parliament. That’s not something I can risk. That’s not something this country can afford.

Second, my gut was screaming: “Femi, you’re not from Peterborough. You’re a Darlington-born Brummy who’s never spent more than a day in that city. You have no right to represent the people of Peterborough over a Labour candidate who’s lived there for 30 years.” It’s true. The people of Peterborough deserve an MP who knows them and their city.

Third, my resources would have been stretched. On top of dealing with Brexit, I have to work on the European elections. If we let Nigel Farage win again, he will end up being the face of the UK for years to come. Given that danger, this is not the best time to be running an intense and high-risk by-election in a town I don’t yet know.

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Standing would also have presented the youth group I co-founded to campaign on Brexit, Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), with some logistical, political, and legal difficulties. Would using OFOC’s data to support my campaign be compliant with general data protection regulation? Could we use OFOC’s digital assets? Could OFOC remain a part of a cross party campaign at the same time as directly participating in an election against these parties? These were concerns that became clear particularly late in the day.

What’s important now is to move forward; and with that in mind, there are a few points I would urge voters in Peterborough to consider as they walk into the polling booths.

Nigel Farage explicitly reassured the country in relation to the economic concerns over Brexit by saying we would get a deal “far, far better” than what Norway has. For the Brexit party to be pushing for no deal, as if that’s what all 17 million people voted for, despite its leader and founder reassuring people that we’d “choose our own deal”, is a con.

As for the concept of a no-deal Brexit, we saw on Question Time on Thursday that Nigel Farage knows there are no major economies in the world that don’t have trade deals with their neighbours. Once he’s forced to admit he’s pushing the country down a path that every successful economy in the world chooses not to follow, he’ll have to argue that we need a deal – and we’ve already seen how well that has gone.

The Labour candidate, Lisa Forbes, would be a far better MP than me – if her party wasn’t still supporting Brexit. She has lived in Peterborough for over 30 years, she’s working class and her policies for fixing the housing crisis are far better than mine (partly because they actually exist). But none of her Labour policies will see the light of day if any version of Brexit happens.

Our country is in crisis, and I’m going to keep pushing to make things better. Groups like OFOC and For our Future’s Sake will keep working to make young people’s voices heard. I just don’t think this is the right way to do it.

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