In the by-election for the Oundle ward of Northamptonshire County Council held on 21 February, the Conservative candidate Annabel de Capell Brooke emerged victorious.
However, the Conservatives received a smaller percentage of the vote than they had in the 2017 general election, when they picked up 65% of the vote.
In a voter turnout of 37%, there was a swing towards the Liberal Democrats, who fielded popular local candidate Marc Folgate. Mr Folgate picked up 1276 votes, compared to Ms de Capell Brooke’s share of 51%, with 1864 votes. The Labour and UKIP candidates lagged behind, with 403 and 89 votes respectively.
The by-election was called following the resignation of former Councillor Heather Smith, who left her post after the council became embroiled in financial difficulties, which may have contributed to voter’s disaffection.
When asked if the council’s financial troubles had contributed to the swing away from the Conservatives, Ms de Capell Brooke said she was unsure.
“A lot of people are aware of the financial problems that NCC has faced historically, but what I feel quite strongly about is that we have pretty much been able to have a balanced budget for 2019-2020, which is amazing.”
She went on to say that when talking to voters during the campaign, Brexit was a key subject on the doorstep.
One campaign volunteer agreed: “Despite it being just a local election, the tide was swinging away from the Tories. On over half of the doorsteps there was disillusionment with the handling of the Brexit process.”
When asked what she thought it was that won the election for her, Ms de Capell Brooke thought her campaign played a large part: “If people can meet the candidate or a representative, they can discuss the issues that matter to them. It also shows the deep care that they have for Oundle and its neighbouring villages.”
She thought that her experience on the East Northamptonshire Council for the Prebendal Ward had given people confidence in her ability, because she understands how council business works. She has lived in this area for over 15 years and has three children who attend local schools, all of whom helped out during her campaign.
In February, there were reports that Ms de Capell Brooke had not attended two-thirds of the ENC meetings. She explained that it was very hard to attend all the meetings, and that she had prioritised.
She was confident of her record on the council, where she represented her own village’s interests, and also worked to prevent the closure of the Oundle library, and to protect Fineshade Woods from development.
At the NCC she intends to make sure that the interests of Oundle and the surrounding villages are heard.
“Oundle can sometimes be overlooked, as it is located far from the council. Wellingborough and Rushden get more attention.”
One particular issue that might compromise her position is the sale of Fletton Field. The cash strapped NCC is determined to sell the field for development to the highest bidder, over the objections of Oundle residents.
But she pledged her support to maintain the field as a green space, acknowledging that it was a very important part of the town.
Ms de Capell Brooke intends to stand in the 2020 elections for the new unitary council, where she hopes to carry on representing Oundle’s interests.