Peterborough is a borough constituency represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament. Its current form is the direct, unbroken successor of a smaller constituency that was created in the mid-16th century and used for the legislatures of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom (UK). The seat today elects one Member of Parliament by the first-past-the-post system of election since 1885, before which its earlier form had two-member representation using the similar bloc vote system and both forms had a broadening but restricted franchise until 1918.
The seat is currently vacant after the serving Member – Fiona Onasanya, an Independent originally elected as a member of the Labour Party – was subject to a successful recall petition. Peterborough is one of two seats won (held or gained) by a Labour candidate in 2017 from a total of seven covering its county. Onasanya's 2017 win was one of 30 net gains by the Labour Party. She was suspended by Labour in December 2018 following her conviction in court for perverting the course of justice in relation to speeding fines and a recall petition in the constituency was successful, triggering a by-election.
In 1918 the parliamentary borough was abolished and replaced with a new division of the parliamentary county of Northampton with the Soke of Peterborough,
including the whole of the Soke (which had been created as a separate administrative county by the Local Government Act 1888) and neighbouring parts of the administrative county of Northamptonshire, absorbing the bulk of the abolished Northern division, incorporating Oundle and extending down to and beyond Thrapston and Corby. This became a county constituency under the revisions brought in for the 1950 general election by the Representation of the People Act 1948, with only minor changes to the boundaries of the constituency to reflect a rationalisation of the rural districts of Northamptonshire.
The composition of the constituency from 1918 onwards is shown in the table below.
The administrative county of the Soke of Peterborough (the Municipal Borough of Peterborough and the Rural Districts of Barnack and Peterborough), the Urban District of Oundle, the Rural Districts of Easton-on-the-Hill and Gretton and parts of the Rural Districts of Oundle and Thrapston
The Municipal Borough of Peterborough, the Urban District of Oundle, the Rural Districts of Barnack and Peterborough and part of the Rural District of Oundle and Thrapston
The Municipal Borough of Peterborough and the Rural Districts of Barnack, Peterborough and Thorney
The City of Peterborough wards of Bretton, Central, Dogsthorpe, East, Fletton, North, Orton Longueville, Orton Waterville, Park, Paston, Ravensthorpe, Stanground, Walton and West
The City of Peterborough wards of Bretton, Central, Dogsthorpe, East, North, Park, Paston, Ravensthorpe, Walton, Werrington and West
The next redistribution, which came into effect for the 1997 general election, saw the creation of the County Constituency of North West Cambridgeshire, which took the areas to the south of the River Nene (City of Peterborough wards of Fletton, Orton Longueville, Orton Waterville and Stanground). Werrington was transferred back from the Huntingdon constituency. Following their review of parliamentary representation in Cambridgeshire in 2005, the Boundary Commission for England made minor alterations to the existing constituencies to deal with population changes, including the transfer back of Thorney and Eye from North East Cambridgeshire. There were also marginal changes to take account of the redistribution of City of Peterborough wards. These changes increased the electorate from 64,893 to 70,640. On the enumeration date of 17 February 2000, the electoral quota for England was 69,934 voters per constituency.
The current constituency is composed of built-up areas of Peterborough to the north of the River Nene, as well as rural areas to the east and north and comprises approximately 60% of the electorate of the local authority of the City of Peterborough. Remaining parts of the City, composed of residential areas to the south of the River Nene and rural areas to the west of Peterborough (wards of Barnack, Fletton, Glinton and Wittering, Northborough, Orton Longueville, Orton Waterville, Orton with Hampton, Stanground Central, and Stanground East) form part of the North West Cambridgeshire constituency.
The Guildhall, Cathedral Square (1669–1671), site of the former Market Place.
In the unreformed House of Commons to be either a candidate or an elector for a county seat, a man had to own (not rent) freehold property valued for the land tax at two pounds a year (women could neither vote nor stand for election). This was known as the 40/- freehold. The franchise for borough seats varied enormously. Originally in Peterborough the dean and chapter had claimed the franchise and held that only residents of Minster Precincts were burgesses. By the interregnum, the city was one of 37 boroughs in which suffrage was restricted to those paying scot and lot, a form of municipal taxation. In 1800 there were 2,000 registered voters in Northamptonshire and 400 in Peterborough. By 1835 this was 576, or about one per cent of the population. Bribery was general until the introduction of the secret ballot under the Ballot Act 1872. Votes were cast by spoken declaration, in public, at the hustings, erected on the Market Place (now Cathedral Square).
In 1832 the Great Reform Act enfranchised those who owned or leased land worth £10 or more and the Second Reform Act extended this to all householders paying £10 or more in rent per annum, effectively enfranchising the skilled working class, so by 1868 the percentage of voters in Peterborough had risen to about 20% of the population. The Third Reform Act extended the provisions of the previous act to the counties and the Fourth Reform Act widened suffrage further by abolishing practically all property qualifications for men and by enfranchising women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. This system, known as universal manhood suffrage, was first used in the 1918 general election. However, full electoral equality wouldn't occur until the Fifth Reform Act ten years later.
According to the 2001 census, the population count of Peterborough constituency is 95,103 persons, comprising 46,131 males and 48,972 females. 67.56% of those aged 16–74 are economically active, including 5.92% umemployed; a further 12.26% are retired and 3.08% students. Of a total 39,760 households, 63.80% are owner occupied, fewer than the regional (72.71%) and national (68.72%) averages. Turnout at the 2005 general election was 41,194 or 61.0% of those eligible to vote, below the regional (63.6%) and national (61.3%) figures.
The Town Hall, Upper Bridge Street (1930–1933), formerly Narrow Street.
Peterborough sent two members to parliament for the first time in 1547. Before the civil war, many were relatives of the clergy; then for two hundred years after the restoration there was always a Fitzwilliam, or a Fitzwilliam nominee, sitting as member for Peterborough, making it a Whig stronghold. Representation was reduced to one member under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885.
From the formal merger of the breakaway Liberal Unionists with the Conservatives in 1912 and the absorption of rural North Northamptonshire in 1918, Peterborough has been predominantly Conservative; however, it has elected Labour MPs several times from 1929 onwards.
In 1966, in one of the closest polls in UK history, Sir Harmar Nicholls held the seat by three votes after seven recounts. Nicholls was the Conservative member from 1950 to 1974, when he lost in the October election of that year to Labour's Michael Ward, having held on by just 22 votes after four recounts in the election eight months earlier. The growth in the New Town from 1967 may in part account for Labour's victory here in 1974. In 1979, however, Ward lost the seat to the Conservative Brian Mawhinney, who would represent Peterborough for the entire duration of the incoming Conservative government and was a Cabinet Minister and Conservative Party Chairman during the second Major government (1992–97).
The seat was made more competitive in the 1997 boundary review by the formation of the North West Cambridgeshire seat, which incorporated the rural land outside Peterborough and several Conservative-inclined wards from the city. Since its formation, North West Cambridgeshire has been one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, whilst Peterborough was ranked 93rd in the Conservatives's one hundred most vulnerable seats (the ones which the other parties must take if there is to be a change of government) and 73rd on Labour's target list; these factors led Mawhinney to stand in North West Cambridgeshire instead. He retired as an MP in 2005 and was created Baron Mawhinney, of Peterborough in the county of Cambridgeshire.
Helen Clark (née Brinton) won the seat for Labour in 1997. She was defeated by Conservative candidate Stewart Jackson at the 2005 election, following which it was widely reported that Clark was planning to defect to the Conservative Party, an announcement which was not popular locally. However, by early June it emerged that while she had left the Labour Party, she had not in fact joined the Conservatives and did not intend to.
Jackson was re-elected in 2010 with an increased majority, which then fell in 2015. In 2017, Labour's Fiona Onasanya won a majority of 607; this result marked the first time since 1929 that Peterborough voted Labour in an election where the Conservatives won the national popular vote, and the first time it has ever elected a Labour MP in a year in which Labour did not form the government. Furthermore, Peterborough became one of five constituencies – the others being Croydon Central, Enfield Southgate, Leeds North West and Reading East – which elected Labour MPs in 2017 having not done so since 2001.
The Tories (or Abhorrers) and Whigs (or Petitioners) originated in the Court and Country parties that emerged in the aftermath of the civil war, although it is more accurate to describe them as loose tendencies, both of which might be regarded as conservative in modern terms. Modern party politics did not really begin to coalesce in Great Britain until at least 1784.
In 1832 the Tory Party evolved into the Conservative Party and in 1859 the Whig Party evolved, with Radicals and Peelites, into the Liberal Party. In opposition to Irish home rule, the Liberal Unionists ceded from the Liberals in 1886, aligning themselves with the Conservatives. The Labour Party was later founded, as the Labour Representation Committee, in 1900.
General Election 1939/40
Another general election was required to take place before the end of 1940. The political parties had been making preparations for an election to take place from 1939 and by the end of this year, the following candidates had been selected:
Caused by the 1852 by-election being declared void on petition due to bribery and treating. Although Whalley secured the most votes, his election was declared void owing to disqualification due to the earlier bribery and treating, and Hankey was declared elected.
^The History of Parliament The House of Commons: 1509–1558 (3 vols.) Bindoff, S. T., 1558–1603 (3 vols.) Hasler, P. W., 1660–1690 (3 vols.) Henning, Basil Duke, 1715–1754 (2 vols.) Sedgwick, Romney, 1754–1790 (2 vols.) Namier, Sir Lewis Bernstein and Brooke, John, 1790–1820 (5 vols.) Thorne, R. G. Martin Secker and Warburg (reissued by Her Majesty's Stationery Office) for the History of Parliament Trust, London, 1964–1986
^Craig, Frederick Walter ScottBritish Parliamentary Election Results 1832–1970 (4 vols.) Macmillan, London, 1971–1977 and Stenton, Michael and Lees, Stephen (eds.) Who's Who of British members of parliament 1832–1979: a biographical dictionary of the House of Commons based on annual volumes of Dod's Parliamentary Companion and other sources (4 vols.) Harvester Press, Hassocks, 1976–1981
^"Humphrey Orme was elected ... and there was an immediate complaint against his sitting on the grounds that he was neither a good puritan nor a stable parliamentarian;" see Tebbs, op. cit. (p.94). "Although its election committee certainly received and examined evidence concerning a disputed and possibly double return at Peterborough, it is not clear what part, if any, the Council played in the final decision in favour of Alexander Blake;" see Gaunt, Peter Cromwell’s Purge? Exclusions and the First Protectorate Parliament[dead link] (p.16) Parliamentary History, vol.6 no.1 (pp.1–22) May 1987. "The defeated candidate ... had allegedly been supported by disaffected and disqualified voters; Orme himself had married a recusant and was probably a Royalist sympathiser;" Ibid. at footnote 80 (p.21)
^Both terms were originally pejorative, deriving respectively from tóraidhe, one of the dispossessed Irish who became outlaws and whiggamor, a Scots Gaelic word for a cattle or horse drover
^"Charles Parker ... in 1728, was High Sheriff of Northamptonshire and at that time not pro-Fitzwilliam. His action at the election of that year led to a case before the Bar of the House of Commons to settle a controversy over the powers of the Bailiffs of the City [and of the Soke] as returning officer at the election. Parker, as Sheriff, sent the election writ to Robert Smith, the Bailiff of the Liberty who returned Earl Fitzwilliam [at that time in the Peerage of Ireland only] and an unknown nominee of [the Earl of Exeter] ... James Pix, the City's Bailiff, contested the return and won, so the sitting members ... were declared elected," even though Wortley Montagu had died six months earlier; see Tebbs, op. cit. (p.95) which incorrectly refers to Sidney's son Edward Wortley Montagu
^Pelling, loc. cit. confirms that Wentworth-Fitzwilliam contested the election against an official Liberal candidate and that the Conservative candidate withdrew in his favour. He became a Liberal Unionist the following year and died as a result of a
riding accident in 1889