Life after Louise Mensch: Corby selects new MP

Andy McSmith visits the hottest seat in Britain to find a drama where the real star is now off-stage

The main political parties all say they want more “ordinary” people – amateurs – to take up politics. There are 13 candidates who could answer to that description in this month's most fiercely contested parliamentary by-election, but when the votes are counted on Thursday, it is a near certainty that the winner will be the only professional in the line-up.

Andy Sawford, Labour's candidate in Corby, is the son of Phil Sawford, who was Labour MP for neighbouring Kettering for eight years. His first paid job was in the office of Phil Hope, who was Labour MP for Corby until 2010.

His current day job is running a charity that works with local government and the civil service on ways to improve services. He has all the confidence and polish of an MP in waiting, and is so embedded in the Labour establishment that there is a persistent but false rumour that he is Phil Hope's godson.

The Labour team have run a shrewd campaign, focusing on an impending review that covers five NHS hospitals, which potentially threatens the existence of an accident and emergency unit and other parts of Kettering Hospital, the hospital nearest to Corby. In parliament, both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have accused Labour of "scaremongering" but Sawford's teams have the documents to back their case and, crucially, the local media have given it credence.

The old battle cry that the Tories cannot be trusted with the NHS could be enough on its own to secure Sawford's place as Corby's next MP.

That is not the official Labour Party spin. They are saying that it a tight contest. The only opinion poll taken in Corby, commissioned by the billionaire Tory peer Michael Ashcroft, gave Labour a thumping 22-point lead, but a Labour official claimed: "That's just a con to make Labour voters think it's not worth turning out." Labour spinners point out that this is not a homogenous constituency.

There is Corby town, dominated by Labour, but almost half the electorate is in surrounding villages, and they are predominantly Conservative.

The whole constituency is surprisingly prosperous considering that 30 years ago, Corby was known as the town that died. It was built around a vast steelworks which the Thatcher government closed in 1981, driving the local unemployment rate above 21 per cent.

An Asda store now stands where one of Europe's biggest blast furnaces used to be. But recovery has been remarkable: 85 new business opened in the constituency in the last quarter alone; unemployment is below the national average. The Conservative candidate, Christine Emmett, is a latecomer into politics after a long business career, which included 10 years as a buyer for Marks & Spencer.

No Cameroon clone, she came out on the side of the 53 anti-EU Tory rebels who inflicted a Commons defeat on David Cameron last week. She proudly relates that the first time she ever cast a vote was as an 18 year old, in the 1975 referendum on EU membership, when she voted "no".

But she has an uphill task holding on to a seat that Louise Mensch narrowly won in 2010, then gave up to be with her new husband in New York. Ms Emmett loyally claims that "people understand the particular circumstances" of her resignation, but conversations with voters in Corby's shopping centre suggest that they are not impressed at having a by-election foisted on them because of their ex-MP's domestic arrangements.

Margot Parker, the UK Independence Party candidate, claimed: "The people of Corby never thought she represented them anyway, so they just say 'she's gone: but was she ever here?' It's Tory voters who are very put off."

But the Tories have been throwing their troops into the battle, particularly since the ex-whip Michael Fabricant took on responsibility for the campaign. They claim to have had 140 party members out on the streets in last Saturday's rain, and certainly have a more visible presence than the Liberal Democrats. .

With several potential candidates to choose from, a Liberal Democrat panel selected an experienced party activist, Jill Hope, whom they could trust not to attract negative publicity, but who has a full-time job in a bank and is restricted to campaigning in her lunch hour and in the evenings. It is as if the Liberal Democrats feared that too much effort might make things difficult for their Coalition partner.

One unpredictable factor is how well Ukip will do. Ms Parker was the second candidate in the race, after Andy Sawford. For three weeks after Mensch's resignation there were just the two of them fighting it out. In Corby, she pushes the line that immigrants are taking British jobs. In the Tory areas, her theme is withdrawal from the EU.

There was an interlude when it appeared that some of her thunder might be stolen by the eccentric Daily Telegraph journalist James Delingpole, who announced his intention to campaign on an anti-wind farm manifesto but said that he pulled out when he felt other parties had started to take the issue seriously.  The constituency currently has no wind farms but planning permission has been granted for three. The Ashcroft opinion poll put Ukip third. The nightmare scenario for the Conservatives is that they might come second.

But if, as expected, Andy Sawford wins, the only fact that will have got through to most people by the weekend is that Labour has taken a Commons seat off the Tories. For that propaganda gift, Ed Miliband can be grateful to the flighty Louise Mensch.

An Independent Voice: 'There's a lot of voter apathy'

"If ordinary people are to reclaim politics from the party elites, if they are to reinvigorate British democracy, they need to take action" is the clarion call of Democracy 2015, the pressure group launched by The Independent's founding editor, Andreas Whittam Smith.

Their first venture into taking action is to send volunteers into Corby to back an independent candidate, Adam Lotun, a seasoned campaigner for disability rights who suffered a crippling accident at work 20 years ago. Mr Lotun is based in Surrey, but has been visiting Corby for three or four days a week, in an electric-powered wheelchair – but his experience is hardly an encouragement for others to follow his example.

"There is a lot of voter apathy," he said. "Sixty per cent of people are saying they are not interested, and the elections for Police Commissioner are not helping because people do not know who the candidates are. It's going to be a very low turnout, which in one way is a good thing for me because I know some people are going to vote for me.

"I've been campaigning mostly in Corby. I tried going out into the villages. I spent £50 on a return taxi fare to Oundle, but the wheelchair access was diabolical. I got into one hotel; I couldn't get into anywhere else. Most of the buses are not wheelchair accessible. Some taxi drivers have a lot to learn, and even the trains can be a problem."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice