Peterborough by-election: The 'mother of all marginals'

Aerial view of Peterborough Cathedral and surrounding area Image copyright Blom/Getty
Image caption The Peterborough constituency was called "the mother of all marginals" by the Renew candidate Peter Ward

Days after they marked their ballots for the European elections, the people of Peterborough will go to the polls again - to choose their MP.

They're facing a by-election, on Thursday, because of the departure of former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who was removed by a recall petition after being jailed for lying about a speeding offence.

The voters of Peterborough have a lot of choice: fifteen candidates, some of them from new political parties, are pounding the streets to try to win people over. But what do voters want in their MP - if election apathy doesn't get to them first?

The city of Peterborough is not what you would call a safe seat.

The Renew candidate Peter Ward has described it as "the mother of all marginals"; it was taken from the Conservatives in 2017 by Ms Onasanya on a wafer-thin majority.

There was nothing marginal about the city's support for leaving the EU, however: in the 2016 referendum, on a 72.4% turnout, voters backed Leave by 61% to 39%.

Peterborough is one of the fastest-growing cities in the UK, with a population of 197,000 people, and strong transport connections to London and the industrial north.

The city, on the edge of the Fens, has long attracted large numbers of immigrants, attracted by its factories, warehouses and agricultural work.

According to the Centre for Cities, Peterborough has outperformed most of the country for rapid employment growth.

So what are the big issues the people of the city want their new MP to tackle?

'Brexit is all we hear about - voting is pointless'

Image caption Ann Marie Gutteridge says the Brexit impasse is causing voter apathy

Ann Marie Gutteridge, 39, runs Sweet Memories on Peterborough market.

There have recently been local elections followed by European elections, and she thinks this is putting people off voting.

"There are too many elections, and Brexit is all we hear about," she says.

"Why bother? It's not working. This is a major city and the new MP has to listen to the people, and unless they support their own area, it's not worth it.

"The city centre desperately needs regenerating, trade is next to nothing here, it's all jewellery shops, betting shops or restaurants."

'This is a fast-growing city'

Image caption Ice cream man Shazad Mahmood sees affordable housing and tackling fly-tipping as priorities

"This city really needs more affordable housing," says Shazad Mahmood, 39, who runs the Jim Boys ice cream van in the city with his brother.

"Getting people on track before they get off track is important. We're lucky here because there are plenty of jobs and this is a fast-growing city.

"Plus I also don't understand why Peterborough has so much fly-tipping.

"How hard is it to phone the council who'll take it away for you?"

'We have to support each other'

Image caption Angelique Williams runs a vegan food stall

"The impact on the environment - not just climate change but animal agriculture and chronic diseases in our schools - is the most important thing now," says market food vendor Angelique Williams, 49.

The former business analyst, who moved to the UK from South Africa in 1996, said she's also worried about the pressure on local businesses to survive with high rents and rates.

But she says Peterborough is full of "little pockets of beauty" - the cathedral and parks, the Art Deco lido, unique buildings and a big artistic community.

"This is a small city with a great international flavour; we have to support each other," she says.

"I want our new MP to be compassionate: a doer - not a taker - someone who will stand up and defend Peterborough."

'I need a guarantee I can work here'

Image caption Inga Pumpure-Skaba wants reassurances from the new MP about Brexit

Inga Pumpure-Skaba, 33, is the site manager at Gladstone Park community centre. She is a single mum of two and is originally from Latvia.

"I've been here for more than nine years and my children are at primary and secondary schools. There's a wonderful Latvian community - our whole lives are here," she says.

"I want a guarantee from the new MP that I'll still be entitled to work and have access to healthcare and education, whatever happens in the next few months.

"The hardest part is seeing the election leaflets coming through, promising jobs for English people - it's discrimination and that's wrong."

Inga is currently applying to stay through the EU Settlement Scheme, but is finding the process confusing and difficult.

"There is work in Peterborough and good opportunities for jobs - it's one of the city's strengths," she says.

"We want to be here."

'The new MP must mean what they say'

Image caption Charity volunteer Jordan Limond wants more visible police in the housing estates

Jordan Limond volunteers with a charity that supports more than 70 rough sleepers in the city every day.

"I want our MP to live up their policies - to mean what they say they're going to do locally," he says.

"They have to live here, to understand the heartbeat of the community. To support the NHS, to boost police to tackle anti-social behaviour."

Photographs by Laurence Cawley

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