PETER FROST has been to Corby to see where the fight back against the Coalition is starting and Cameron’s first by-election will be fought.
So the first cracks are developing in Cameron and Clegg’s Coalition. After a lovers tiff about Lord’s reform and Constituency Gerrymandering the previously smarmy couple have had as big a fallout as the love interest in one of Louise Bagshawe’s raunchy chic lit best sellers.
This particular author is now better known as Louise Mensch and even better known as the first Tory MP who, after considering her long term job prospects, has decided to jump the Coalition ship and spend more time with Metallica one of her new husband’s bands in New York.
Ms Mensch isn’t just any Tory MP. She is perhaps the best known of the small band of A-list minor celebrity candidates specially selected by Cameron himself for the 2010 election and dumped on unsuspecting constituency Tory parties up and down the country.
Louise Mensch was landed on the people of Corby and East Northamptonshire and has proved good value for money for Cameron if not for them. She has a high profile with frequent media appearances on programmes like Question Time. She even grabbed headlines by admitting a youthful use of A-Class drugs.
Then the bombshell, on 6 August 2012, Mensch announced her decision to resign as a MP; this despite rumours that she was likely to be promoted in the expected September government reshuffle as well as stories that she had cut the raunchier sex scenes from her latest novel so as not to embarrass the Prime Minister.
Tory backwoodsman used her resignation to justify their disapproval of women, and particularly women with children, in Parliament generally. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Norman Tebbit criticised Conservative Central Office for removing the right of constituencies to choose their own local candidates.
Others Tories, on various right-wing tweets and blogs have demanded that the party select a traditional male Tory with some local knowledge to fight Corby the first by-election of this term. They know it will be a tremendous battle.
The election is widely predicted to be held on the 15th November alongside the already organised elections for the new political Police Commisioners.
In reality it’s likely to be a straight fight between the new Tory candidate and Labour. UKIP didn’t stand in the 2010 election in order to give the Tories a clear run. UKIP may well have polled more than the winning 1,951 Tory majority.
The BNP who polled just a little less than five per cent in 2010 have since worked closely with the local Tories. Indeed the 2010 BNP Parliamentary Candidate Roy Davies signed one local Tory, Mark Taitt’s, nomination papers for the 2011 council elections. He was one of two high level BNP members who did so.
When questioned about this disgusting situation Louise Mensch MP developed a case of selective amnesia – claiming she had never heard of Roy Davies one of just three candidates who had stood against her in the General Election. She consistently refused to offer any criticism of her Tory colleague and his racist supporters.
Labour selected their parliamentary candidate over a year ago. He is Andy Sawford the son and grandson of Corby steelworkers. Andy’s dad was steelworker turned Kettering Labour MP Phil Sawford.
What the Lib Dems will do is anybody’s guess. Like Lib Dem organisations everywhere the local party is hemorrhaging popular respect and support after Clegg’s cozying up to the Tories. The Lib Dems lost two seats in the 2011 town council elections leaving them just a pitiful three Council seats.
In the same election the Tories lost four seats. Labour gained all six taking their total to 22, a huge majority.
Corby is one of Britain’s most unusual places. It’s a typical Scottish ex-steel town but one plonked down just ninety miles north of Westminster.
Let me introduce you to Billy. His family story will tell you a lot you need to know to understand Corby and its people.
I met Billy with his mates at the open air café by the boating lake in Corby. Sounds like a New Town idyll but the heavy steel security screens the graffiti and the general air of despondency take the edge off the romantic feel of the place.
Billy is fifteen. He feels he is destined to become one of Corby’s many NEET’s (Not in employment, education or training) on his sixteenth birthday next month.
Coincidently Billy’s Mother was fifteen when she had Billy at a time when Corby was often in the news topping Britain’s statistics for underage pregnancies.
An intense health education programme was making a real impression on the number of schoolgirl pregnancies but that campaign was one of the first victims of the Coalition cuts.
Drug and alcohol abuse too has seen the town in the news but again valuable work in this field has been halted by massive spending cuts in both voluntary and public sectors.
Corby has the highest proportion of population in England with low levels of literacy and numeracy limiting achievement and horizons for young people. This bodes badly for the future of the town.
Northamptonshire County Council, with a massive Tory majority has been an early and enthusiastic supporter of Central Government’s austerity programme.
The County has slashed its youth service to the bone. Another unpopular Council Cut has seen street lighting turned off leading to public unease about an increase in street crime. Local trades unionists have launched a campaign against what they are calling the Blitz Blackout.
Ironically in the real war time blitz Corby burnt oil and rubber waste to create a continuous dark pall over the town to hide the glowing Bessemer steel furnaces from Nazi bombers. No bombs ever hit the town.
Billy’s family, and most friends and neighbours all speak with a Scottish accent, almost Glaswegian. They call it Corby Scots – yet neither Billy or his mum have ever been north of the border. Billy explains.
“My great, great, great grandfather, another Billy, walked from Scotland to Corby in the 1930’s. He had been unemployed since the General Strike and had heard there were jobs for steelworkers in a new steelworks in Corby.”
Corby it seems sat on top of a huge deposit of ironstone ore. It gave birth to a steel town big and dirty enough to have featured in Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.
“It was 350 miles from Cambuslang Glasgow to Northamptonshire and he walked every step of the way. It took him over a month.
“The walk was worth it. Billy senior got a job and worked in the Corby steel works as did his son and grandson, that’s my granddad. Three generations of steelmakers, a common story in Corby.
“Sadly there’s no job for me in the steel industry today.” Billy went on “They are just a shadow of what they used to be, making steel tubes for the Indian conglomerate Tata.”
In the war Corby steel tube made the Pluto Pipeline that took fuel across the Channel to the British Army. “Winston Churchill said the Corby Steel won the war” Billy told me obviously repeating an old and proud local story.
Virtually all the steel worker’s came from Scotland along with a good few from Northern Ireland. The town was known as ‘Little Scotland’. The Scots and Ulster folk bought their culture and traditions with them. There are still Celtic and Rangers supporter’s clubs in the town.
Flags fly from flats in Corby as they do all over Britain for the Olympics but in Corby they are all blue and white St Andrew’s crosses.
Some of the traditions are more ominous. Last year Louise Mensch Tory MP and Labour Mayor Gail McDaid had to get together to appeal, unsuccessfully, to the local British Legion not to let the Orange Order Corby Loyalist Flute Band lead the town’s Remembrance Day parade.
This in a town that, about the same time Billy was born, made national headlines with the sectarian killing of a 13 year old catholic girl kicked to death by a protestant teenage girl’s gang. Sectarian violence still plagues the town today.
Today Corby’s industries are food – potato crisps, breakfast cereals, and vegetarian ready-meals are specialties. Distribution is important too and huge warehouses circle the town but one, Argos, is due to close in October with the loss of another 440 jobs.
Unemployment in Corby is growing rapidly as local businesses shrink or close. Youth unemployment has doubled in the last year.
So why does the constituency have a Tory MP? When the constituency borders were re-drawn in 1983 they incorporated some of the most posh towns and villages in the English midlands. The constituency includes traditional hunting Tory shires up to the Rutland border.
Tory MP Mensch herself lives ten miles from Corby town in the chocolate box riverside town of Oundle best known for its £30,000 per year public school. It’s still common to see the hunt in the countryside round Corby.
One positive factor in Labour winning the by-election will be the re-establishment of the local Trades Union Council. The organisation came back to life last year as local trades unionists played their part in the fights and demonstrations against the public service cuts from central government and the county council.
Natalie Newby, Secretary of the Trades Council summed up feeling of local people in that fight. “This is a battle that simply must be won, because defeat will lead to lower living standards for all of us…
“…let’s show this rotten Tory government we stand united and we’re ready to take them on.”
The Corby by-election will be a test both of the popularity of the Cameron Clegg Coalition and also of the country’s attitude to Ed Miliband and the policies that Labour put forward.
Miliband has already been to Corby to launch the Labour campaign. He has declared unemployment will be the major issue of the election. Now he needs to speak out with radical socialist policies that will unite the working people of Corby.
That way the tiny crack started by one Tory resignation could begin to crumble the whole rotten Coalition government.
Ed’s dad, Marxist Ralph Miliband, could have told him. That’s the way the Corby steel was tempered.
2010 General Election Results
Corby and East Northamptonshire
Louise Mensch Tory 22,886
Phil Hope Labour 20,934
Portia Wilson Lib Dem 7,834
Roy Davies BNP 2,525
Tory majority 1,951
Swing to Tories 3.4%
This article first published in the Morning Star, November 2012