‘We’re going to give this everything we’ve got until 10 o’clock on Thursday.’ There’s only two days to go until the Peterborough by-election, and it’s fair to say that Brexit party candidate Mike Greene is determined to win. In his campaign headquarters in Peterborough, the businessman, Secret Millionaire and former Tory supporter revealed he hadn’t placed a bet on himself like Nigel Farage (his Mum told him to never bet against the bookies), but is ‘confident’, though not complacent, that the Brexit party can win here this week.
Peterborough has always been a tightly contested marginal seat that has either voted for Labour or the Tories since the second world war. But after the European election results last month, which saw the Brexit party come first in the area with 38 per cent of the vote, there’s a sense that the seat could be won by an outsider for the first time. For the Brexit party, this week’s contest is an opportunity to prove that its success in the European elections wasn’t just a protest vote, and it can compete with the two main parties on the domestic stage.
Which is where Greene comes in. The businessman moved to Peterborough when he was 11 years old, spent time away from the city while he set up his successful businesses, and then moved back here twenty years ago when his daughter was born. He’s clearly passionate about his local area, and says even if he doesn’t win the election this week, he’d never consider standing somewhere else. The fact that the term ‘carpetbagging’ even exists is an indictment of the current political system, he says.
This criticism, that politics is currently broken, and the people have been betrayed has been a central part of the Brexit party’s pitch since its founding and it’s something that Greene clearly believes too. Knocking on doors in Peterborough, he says there’s a deep sense of frustration and betrayal with the governing class, which he believes will translate into support for his party, who will ‘bring democracy back’. The single biggest reason people are backing the Brexit party, he argues, is the fact that Britain failed to leave the EU on 29 March. It was the day he also decided to join Nigel Farage.
The Brexit party has some disadvantages in this by-election. The other parties began campaigning here before the party even existed, when it seemed likely that the former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya would lose her seat after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice. It also remains to be seen whether the Brexit party’s rallies and social media strategy will work in one constituency, when it has no councillors on the ground to help with campaigning, and the party lacks traditional electoral infrastructure.
Despite this, Greene says that over 700 people have travelled from all over the country to help canvass in the seat, which he believes is the largest group of campaigners for any by-election in the UK. But he acknowledged the party’s difficulties, saying: ‘If we do win, whatever we win by, whether it’s by one vote or more, it will be outstanding. If for no other reason than we haven’t got the databases, the historic voting, the telephone numbers’ that the other parties have.’
And what will he do when he gets there? Greene brushed aside concerns that the party does not yet have any domestic policies or a manifesto, or that the party will disappear once Britain leaves the EU. He described Brexit as the foundation on which the rest of his party and policies will be built, and believes that ‘Brexit will come to mean much more than exiting the EU. It will come to mean democracy, it will come to mean independence, it will come to mean sovereignty.’
Pressed on whether there could be difficulties in the future, considering the diverse nature of the Brexit party’s candidates and the promises he has made to the people of Peterborough, Greene said that he had been given assurances by Nigel Farage that the needs of local constituencies would be taken into consideration when the party decides on policy.
One thing that’s clear, is that Greene will have little time for the Conservative party if he does make it to Westminster. He said that every MP, and especially the current Tory leadership contenders, bear some responsibility for the current Brexit impasse. If anything, he believes that unless they ‘make dramatic and fast change’ it could soon be the end of the two main parties altogether.
On Brexit, Greene outlined his party’s strategy if they do win their first MP. He would only consider voting for a Brexit deal if it was ‘totally different’ from Theresa May’s and was negotiated from a position of strength, with no deal on the table and with the Brexit party ideally involved in the talks. His main job in Westminster will be to ‘agitate and influence’. Not that Greene thinks he will be the sole Brexit party MP for any length of time: ‘I don’t think it’ll be long before you’ll see a whole new wave of turquoise coming in to Westminster’, he tells Coffee House. The other parties better watch out.