The Labour candidate who wants to turn Corby red again at the next general election
Lee Barron was selected after the first round of voting at the April 1 hustings as the constituency’s Labour candidate.
He fought off competition from Matt Keane, Rosie Wrighting and Shabbir Aslam.
When a general election is called – currently tipped to be in autumn 2024 – Lee will go up against incumbent Tory Tom Pursglove, who has a comfortable 10,000 majority and will be fighting to win a fourth election in the town after increasing his lead at every previous ballot.
Corby is a bellwether seat and the MP is likely to be from the same party that takes overall victory.
Speaking to the Northants Telegraph, Lee said: “If we don’t win Corby and East Northants then Labour will not be forming a government after the next general election.
"The road to number ten Downing Street runs through Corby and East Northants and we have got to deliver the keys.”
Lee grew up in a working class family in Far Cotton, Northampton, and attended Delapre Primary School. He left school at 16 to take up an apprenticeship with Royal Mail.
He soon became an area delivery union rep for Northamptonshire, including Corby, and remained in that post for 20 years.
He now works as a regional secretary for the Trades Union Congress, which brings together 48 different organisations and 1.1m workers.
Lee was also the former leader of the Labour group on Northampton Borough Council and has been a magistrate in the town for 20 years.
It’s left him with a keen interest in how local justice works. He’s critical of the closure of Corby magistrates’ court and believes being part of the magistracy should be more accessible.
"It’s a 50 mile round trip to Northampton from Corby. It’s a case of can you afford to be a magistrate?
"It’s been made more difficult. It’s not local justice.”
It was after nearly a decade as a magistrate that he decided to stand to be Northamptonshire’s first police and crime commissioner back in 2012.
After he was named as the official Labour candidate, Lee told a reporter at our sister paper the Chronicle and Echo that, as a 19-year-old in 1990, he had been fined £20 for obstructing a police officer trying to arrest his friend at a pub in Northampton following an England football game.
Shortly afterward the Labour party withdrew their support for him, but with nominations already closed he couldn’t formally withdraw from the race and the Tory candidate Adam Simmonds sauntered to victory.
Lee was the third Labour candidate that year caught out by a rule change governing the kind of convictions that prevented PCC candidates from standing. Originally only those who had committed crimes that could lead to a custodial sentence were barred – but that was widened to include all convictions.
He said: “It’s the only public office you can’t hold if you have a conviction.
"You can sit as a magistrate in judgement of your peers but you can’t be the PCC.”
As to how the disastrous events were allowed by Labour to emerge publicly, in real-time, Lee said: “It was the first time that the police and crime commissioner had been elected and I think at that time Labour had bigger fish to fry as there was a crucial by-election going on in Corby.”
Now standing himself in the town, Lee fought off competition against more local candidates and some criticism has already been levelled at him on social media because he is not from Corby.
He said: “It depends what you mean by local. I’m a Northamptonshire lad.
"It’s a big constituency. I live closer to places like Stanwick than most people in Corby.
"I represented Corby’s postal workers for 20 years. It’s a unique area and I think it’s one that anyone would feel proud to represent.”
The constituency is one of two halves – with Corby’s issues very different from those in more rural East Northants. Lee says: “They tell us they don’t feel as though they have a voice.
"We want to make sure we represent their views in Westminster.
"They have major issues with connectivity and with access to NHS services like dentistry and GPs.
"Public transport in East Northants has been poor for decades. That needs to be addressed.”
Although he has a long history of work with the union, Lee’s politics are considered by those close to him as left of centre. He won’t be drawn into talking about the reign of Jeremy Corbyn, nor the ongoing fall-out, saying only that any disputes he has with the leadership of the party will be raised directly with those leaders.
Lee believes that North Northants Council does not always give Corby the resources it needs. He calls the pothole situation ‘scandalous’ and uses Pen Green’s funding cuts as an example of Corby missing out.
He said: “My central message is to stop punishing Corby because it’s a Labour town.
“We’ve had over a decade of decline and we can start to turn that around. It’s about rebuilding public services so that they work.
"Why isn’t Corby getting what Corby needs? We want to stand up for a community that’s been abandoned.”
He is also hopeful of attracting better quality, higher paid jobs to Corby and is critical of the proliferation of short-term, poorly-paid, insecure agency work. He says Corby needs more jobs for graduates and those who want to build successful careers in the town.
"Corby has more employment agencies than any other town in Northamptonshire,” he said. “I don’t mean we don’t need flexibility but the model that’s being offered is wrong.
"Forty per cent of working people in Corby claim benefits. Working should be a road out of poverty.
"I’m not waiting for a Labour government, I’m saying we need these jobs in Corby now. We need to be having a look at where they can go.”
North Northamptonshire’s population has grown by 13.5 per cent since 2011 – more than double the national average growth. But health services have not kept up with demand.
Lee says if elected, he’d lobby for a hospital for Corby.
“We need a third general hospital for our county,” he says. “And that hospital should be in Corby.”