SPECIAL REPORT: New life in a new town for former Northampton Borough Council leader

While the controversy over the Sekhemka statue continues, MP David Mackintosh says he has no regrets in selling it.
While the controversy over the Sekhemka statue continues, MP David Mackintosh says he has no regrets in selling it.

For four years he ruled Northampton Borough Council with an iron will, taking his hometown through a blistering series of changes that earned him a mix of acclaim - and sometimes heavy criticism. But now David Mackintosh is a small fish in a big parliamentary pond. So how is the new boy settling in?

It has been four months since the Conservative MP won his Northampton South seat with a majority of more than 4,000.

MP David Mackintosh said his first days at Parliament were like a "new school."

MP David Mackintosh said his first days at Parliament were like a "new school."

As council leader he oversaw some of the biggest capital deals the town has seen in decades, from a new train station to an overhaul of Abington Street and more.

Greyfriars came down under his watch and plans for a new museum were drawn up. Controversially, some might add.

Almost every week the then leader could be seen sporting a hard hat and unveiling a new project.

But since May he has been adapting to a new life in London.

"I get around 400 emails a day," claims the former borough council leader.

"I get around 400 emails a day," claims the former borough council leader.

“In many ways the job is similar and in many ways it is very different,” he said of settling into Westminster.

“One minute you are dealing with someone’s problems relating to a street in Northampton or someone who is having trouble with their pension; the next you are in a briefing with a president or prime minister talking about international affairs.”

On the day the Chron met Mr Mackintosh at Westminster the MP’s diary highlighted the point.

Our interview was sandwiched between a briefing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a meeting with housing minister Brandon Lewis.

Coupled with a hectic schedule by anyone’s standards, the former council boss receives 400 emails a day, he tells the Chron, many of which are from constituents with housing problems, Northamptonians facing passport troubles abroad and others urging him to join campaigns.

Mr Mackintosh claims to reply to every one - even though some weeks see him inundated with around 5,000 individual pieces of correspondence.

But few would begrudge the new MP for feeling strange at going from a council leader, a position some would argue wields more influence, to a Tory backbencher overnight.

“It’s very much like starting a new school,” he said.

“The first month is getting used to the labyrinth that is Westminster and the traditions of the House of Commons itself.

“Then there is setting up the constituents office and your Westminster office, which takes some time.

“But it’s strange how fast it all happens.

“The election result was 6am on the Friday morning, having been up for 26 hours.

“But then people were emailing me two minutes after I was elected with requests.

“Then I was down here (in London) for Sunday night, ready to start my first day in Parliament on the Monday.”

In fact the move down south is perhaps one of the toughest aspects for the proud Rectory Farm man, who now spends most of his week arriving home late to his Pimlico apartment and the weekend, including Friday, back in his constituency.

Despite working in London during his younger days, it also marks the first time he has lived away from Northampton.

But If the new job is a new school, then Mr Mackintosh has certainly endeavoured to take on some extracurricular activities.

He has been seconded to the communities and local government select committee, which is scrutinising the Housing Bill, a set of legislations which would extend the Right to Buy Scheme.

On the day the Chron visited Mr Mackintosh, MPs could choose whether or not to attend a briefing on the impact of the proposed HS2 high speed railway on Euston station.

It wasn’t due to start until 6pm, but the Conservative had no doubt he was going to it.

“I owe it to people to be as informed about a topic as possible before I vote on it because almost everything I do relates back to Northampton somehow.

“Take tonight’s HS2 briefing. If parts of Euston station are closed how will that affect commuters in Northampton on the West coast mainline?

“I support HS2 but we have to find ways of minimising the disruption.”

It leaves very little time for a personal life, thought the MP does confess to enjoying BBC One soap EastEnders and is currently reading the latest in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo saga.

How much free time he has in the future will depend on his career trajectory.

His predecessor, Brian Binley prided himself in backbench status, and used it to speak out against his boss, David Cameron, at every opportunity.

Though it would be a far stretch to call the new incumbent a Tory rebel, Mr Mackintosh has already stated he would have defied the party whip and voted against the bill to legalise fox hunting.

Prior to the scheduled debate the MP had received a number of emails from constituents asking him to vote against it.

“Ultimately as the MP you have to make your own decisions,” he said.

“You need to be strong enough because that’s why you are elected.

“I just couldn’t have voted to bring something like that back.”

As a council leader, many viewed Mr Mackintosh as a controversial figure.

His decision to sell the Sekhemka statue from Northampton Museum and Art Gallery garnered him the title of “Philistine of the Year” in Private Eye.

A Ross Noble TV show depicted him as some sort of secret state dictator, albeit ironically.

But with time to reflect on his tenure at the borough council, Mr Mackintosh has no regrets.

“My only regret is that I couldn’t achieve everything I wanted to in a four year term,” he said.

“Whereas I’m very happy to have the opportunity to come to parliament, there are many things I would have liked to have carried on or completed.

“I was concerned that over the years Northampton was going backwards as a town.

“I think I used my time as leader to turn that around.”