LibDems win council seat

In February, voters in the Oundle ward went to the polls to elect a new unitary councillor following the resignation of Annabel de Capell Brooke, who had moved to Norfolk in November.

After a highly contested campaign, the Liberal Democrats managed to turn round strong Conservative support to win a majority of 260 votes, making Charlie Best the only Liberal Democrat councillor on North Northamptonshire Council.

The results of the by-election were: Charlie Best (Liberal Democrats) 1,683; Ollie Curtis (Conservative Party) 1,423; Harry James (Labour Party) 337; Kate Jones (Green Party) 124.

This is the first Lib Dem victory in the Oundle area since they won seats in both the Oundle and Kings Cliffe wards of East Northamptonshire District Council at the 1995 local elections.

Charlie Best lives in Oundle and has worked in the area for many years as an engineer before retiring. He said: “First and foremost, I’m a Yorkshireman, which some people might groan about. I’m 62 years old. Another white, middle-class male, which is the last thing we need in politics, but I can’t help that.” He has two grown-up daughters and has recently become a grandfather.

He said his political conscience was awakened by Brexit. “I enjoyed being European and travelling around Europe and it was a real shock to find that, somehow, we had managed to be taken out of it.”

He first considered standing as a councillor after seeing the reorganisation of the councils in Northamptonshire. He said: “The Lib Dems were the natural home for me because I guess you would call me a centrist; I believe in balanced, reasonable policies. Neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party appealed to me because the strings are pulled largely by the more extreme factions in the party.”

He recognises the unique pressure he is under to prove to voters that the Liberal Democrats is a party worth electing. “The onus is on me as the sole Lib Dem to do a good enough job to convince people next time we come round that they would like some more Lib Dems representing them. The Lib Dems have a good track record of being in local government and communicating with people and dealing with whatever issues they can; more so than probably most of the other parties,” he said.

He also plans to work closely with the Green Alliance. This currently consists of three Green Party councillors from Kettering and two independents. At one recent budget meeting they proposed a few amendments, which were not passed. He said that although many conservative councillors thought the amendments were sensible, “unfortunately, a lot of the Conservatives didn’t dare vote for them because traditionally you just don’t. You always oppose amendments put by opposition in budget. But the encouraging thing was, there was a lot of positive reaction to them”.

Geographically, the Oundle ward is one of the largest in North Northamptonshire, covering rural areas stretching from Oundle and Benefield in the south to Easton on the Hill in the north. Yet because of low population numbers, the ward’s priorities are often overlooked by the unitary council.

“We’re going to struggle to get any focus and resources compared to Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough. They are always going to be the most demanding but, you know, we’ve got our issues and the knack is going to be picking which of those are ones we can actually influence and do something about,” he said.

He believes that one of the big issues facing Oundle is housing development. “What we have seen time and time again is a town council that has a plan for where the community wants the houses built, and developers and land agents doing deals with landowners to build houses in other places.”

He feels that developers wishing to build in the area should be asked to pay more by way of investment in local infrastructure. He and his campaign team found during their campaign that one issue that many people feel strongly about is the poor state of Oundle’s pavements. “There are lots of little issues which impact people’s lives day to day, that don’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money. But it’s trying to get the attention and resources from North Northants Council to focus on those.”

When asked to what extent he feels that the large Conservative majority on the council will have an impact on what he can get done, he said: “Well, of course, it can stop you doing anything at committee or whole council level because you are one vote. On a positive note, though, the other two councillors for the Oundle ward are Conservative, so you would hope that they would vote in a way that supports the people here.

“At the end of the day, whatever the politics, we should be here to serve and champion what the people in our ward want.”

Robert Foskett
June 2022