Political fireworks in Corby over bonfire night spectacular

Sparks are flying in a simmering side-show we

Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 5:41 pm
A piper at the towns last bonfire which took place two years ago. Top: Mayor Lawrence Ferguson. Bottom: Cllr Jason Smithers, who will light this years bonfire.

A tense row has been sparked over the lighting of Corby’s huge annual bonfire.

The fireworks display is one of the town’s biggest annual community events and takes place every Bonfire Night against the backdrop of Corby Boating Lake.

Funded previously by Corby Borough Council (CBC), and this year by its successor North Northamptonshire Council (NNC), the event is also partly paid for by private sponsorship.

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It has traditionally been a non-partisan event and the bonfire is lit either by a sponsor or by the mayor, which in Northamptonshire is a civic honour and not a political position.

But this year it has been announced that new NNC Conservative council leader Cllr Jason Smithers, who represents Oundle ward, will light the bonfire, aided by his deputy Cllr Helen Howell, who represents Raunds.

Mayor Cllr Lawrence Ferguson, who is appointed by Corby Town Council, only received his invitation to the event yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

He’ll take part in the traditional parade from the pool to the boating lake but won’t be invited to light the fire.

Cllr Ferguson, who grew up in Corby and still lives in the town, was the last ever CBC mayor but was given a second tenure after his mayoral year was scuppered by the pandemic.

He was appointed the first ever Corby Town Mayor earlier this year. He comes from a Corby political dynasty - his grandfather John Wood-Cowling was Corby's mayor in 1996 and was a key figure in fighting the closure of the town’s steelworks.

His invite came only minutes after the Corby Labour Group had issued a press release calling on NNC to bestow this year’s bonfire lighting honour on an NHS worker as a thank you for their hard work during the pandemic.

Their statement said: “No local politicians have ever been asked to, or wanted to light the fire.”

Cllr Ferguson, in a stance supported by NNC Labour group leader Jean Addison and Corby Town Council leader Cllr Matt Keane, said: “With all that’s gone on with COVID and the great work of the NHS and emergency services, I believe we should ask someone who’s been on the front line to help the town’s people to light their fire. It will be a pleasure for me to be there and watch this happen.”

Deputy leader of Corby Labour Group John McGhee, who is the former chair of the CBC committee that previously organised the bonfire celebration, said: “I welcome this gesture by Mayor Ferguson and, like him, thank all those who gave the townspeople support, including the staff and councillors at CBC who went above and beyond .

“I understand this event is cut back this year but we must recognise the great work of ex CBC officers who have put the event together.”

Tensions have been growing between the political groups on NNC after the Conservative party won a majority at May’s first ever NNC election. It meant that many members of the former ruling Labour group on CBC became members of the opposition.

Opposition members have clashed publicly in council meetings and sources from both camps say there is a strained relationship between the political groups behind the scenes.

It also emerged last night that no Corby-based NNC councillors have been invited along to the bonfire parade.

An angered NNC leader of the opposition Cllr Jean Addison, speaking on a social media post shared widely last night (Monday) and inviting public comments, said: “How very disappointing that the Corby town mayor will not be lighting the traditional Corby bonfire.

“In fact, the mayor was only invited to attend at 3pm today after pressure was put on the administration at NNC by Corby councillors.”

Former MP Andy Sawford waded into the row, saying: “It is disappointing how disrespectful the new NNC administration is being of Corby.

“Instead of pushing Corby’s community leaders out the way, they should take some time to understand Corby better, and learn about the town’s different traditions and many successes.”

Others said online that it amounted to a ‘colonisation’ of Corby and said that the town tradition should be carried out by someone from the town.

In a statement to this newspaper, issued after the Labour Group press release, NNC confirmed that this year’s bonfire will be lit by Cllrs Smithers and Howell.

Last year’s event was cancelled because of Covid.

The bonfire will be lit at 7pm and the fireworks will begin at 7.30pm on Friday (November 5).

The event is free of charge.