Rebel MP's followers sing a little out of tune

NOTHING stops the Wednesday night Sing-along-a-Tory party in Northampton's Conservative Club. Under the framed icon of lead vocalist John Major, and displaying all the harmony of a party conference standing ovation, the tuneful faithful belted out their favourites. Nobody seemed to notice that last week's rendition of a Jim Reeves classic was a touch topical: 'Let's pretend that we're together . . . and darling, he'll have to go.'

As the piano tinkled out 'Welcome to my world, won't you come on in', one constituency association officer began reflecting on a week that for the first time in 30 years saw a Tory MP, their MP, calling in the Commons for the resignation of a Conservative Prime Minister.

Embarrassed he's-a-rebel- but-we-love-him smiles accompanied many comments about Tony Marlow, MP for Northampton North, by the association secretary, Judith Clowes. But she appeared genuinely worried. 'Something needed to be said. But he chose such an awful place and time to say it.'

Sixty telephone calls were made to the Northampton North association office on Wednesday morning. 'Delighted from North Devon' offered Mr Marlow support. The 'irate homosexual from Esher', who had complained over Mr Marlow's stance on the reduction of age of sexual consent debate, announced angrily: 'It's me again, and he's done it again, he's done it again.'

The majority of messages, however, backed the MP's latest rebellious proclamation. Likewise, a telephone poll carried out by the Northampton evening newspaper showed 51 per cent agreeing with their MP that Mr Major should immediately order the removal van. It was also difficult to find a market stallholder who thought Mr Marlow had got it wrong.

Those who 'knew Tony', said Mrs Clowes, thought it was only a matter of time before he 'said something'. On Tuesday, Tony said it. Following the Government's inability to deliver on new voting rules for an enlarged European Union, Antony Rivers Marlow told his boss, John Major: 'Why don't you stand aside and make way for someone else who can provide the party and the country with direction and leadership?' He claimed to speak for 60-70 per cent of Tory MPs.

At the bar of the club, Phil Larratt, leader of the Conservatives on Labour-controlled Northampton Borough Council, admitted his party 'can't go on changing their leader every time there's differences'. But secretly, what was his gut reaction? In a split second he said: 'We should get rid of him'.

Mr Larratt, on the Tory right, would like to see Portillo or Lilley at Number 10. 'But the right are gradually warming to Michael Heseltine. He's shown leadership qualities.' And the 54-year-old Sandhurst and Cambridge-educated Marlow? 'Well, he's supported the council, and the association has supported his views on Europe. He's respected, known, for opening his mouth.'

There were mostly nods and smiles over the labels their MP had attracted since entering the Commons in 1979. Maverick. Unguided missile. Tory Rebel. Extreme Right. Euro- sceptic. The Tory Dennis Skinner. But most added: 'He's a very, very good constituency MP'. The usual routine for Mr Marlow, according to Mrs Clowes, is to finish his fortnightly surgery and then 'just pick one street and go knock on doors, every door'.

The Northampton North constituency, midway between London and Birmingham, and within 100 miles of half the country's population, has a slim 3,908 Tory majority. 'It's always been a fight,' said Mrs Clowes. 'You've got to work to get the vote out.'

The 1968 New Town status of Northampton attracted vital new business to the old shoe capital of England. Although mass manufacturing in shoes has now shifted to the Far East, replacement industry and commerce has helped to keep Northampton's unemployment below national levels. Both Northampton seats are Tory. But the description of the town as 'natural' or safe Conservative is rarely heard.

Doing some early squeezing of palms in the constituency this week was the Tory MEP Anthony Simpson. The Euro-elections next month, everyone acknowledges, will be close for Mr Simpson. The outburst of his Westminster counterpart, he said, did him no favours.

'Sure,' one party worker says, 'Tony will be out there campaigning for Anthony. But what the hell use is he?'

In 1992, when the memory of Mr Marlow's attack (then the first) on Mrs Thatcher almost two years earlier was still fresh in constituency members' minds, there were moves to de-select him. But few in the association think he will have trouble getting adopted again - if he wants to be. But there are rumours in the association that their MP has already dropped hints that he will not be seeking re-election.

For those dissatisfied with Mr Marlow, his quiet withdrawal would be a godsend. Sitting in a self-imposed splinter group away from the singalong throng, three jeans-and-T-shirted Tory gentlemen in their mid-30s, unwilling to give their names, said: 'Marlow is a madman.' They had been party members for 15 years or so. They had always voted Tory. 'But not next time if Marlow stands.' Why? 'What's the damn point? He's a bloody independent.'

Opposite the Tory club in St George's Avenue, Mr Larratt points to the huge open fields that during the summer host the largest balloon festival in Europe. Balloons everywhere, he says. And, someone points out, lots and lots of hot air. 'Oh, you won't use that, will you?' he asks.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent