Paul Linford celebrates the careers of some of the lesser-known names to grace British politics, and discovers what became of them when their 15 minutes of fame were up. This month... David Bellotti
David Bellotti may not have been one of the significant political figures to grace the green leather benches of the House of Commons — but he did win one of the most significant by-elections of modern times.
On 30 July 1990, Eastbourne MP and former Tory minster Ian Gow was murdered by the IRA, not only depriving Margaret Thatcher of one of her most loyal backbench allies, but also opening the way to a potentially damaging contest at a time when she was looking increasingly vulnerable.
Although some argued that to hold a contested by-election that the government might easily lose would hand the IRA a propaganda victory, normal politics swiftly intervened.
The by-election, held on 18 October, was indeed duly lost, and five weeks later, the longest-serving Prime Minister of modern times was also on her way.
The Eastbourne contest was also notable for featuring both a former MP and a future MP among the losing candidates. Richard Hickmet, who lost to Bellotti by 4,500 votes, had previously been the Tory MP for Glanford and Scunthorpe from 1983 to 1987, while Labour’s Charlotte Atkins later went on to win Staffordshire Moorlands in 1997.
But despite having contributed to the downfall of a Prime Minister, Bellotti made little impression in the Commons, being rather too florid a character even for the LibDems of the time.
Two years later, he was defeated by Nigel Waterson in the 1992 general election, and returned from whence he came — local government.
But unlike many LibDem by-election victors, Bellotti was not destined for obscurity. He became chief executive of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club during perhaps the most turbulent period in the history of that august sporting institution.
At the time the club was heavily in debt and, despite bitter protests from fans, it was eventually obliged to sell the much-loved Goldstone Ground, its home since 1902.
Bellotti then further alienated supporters by announcing a hugely controversial ground-share with Gillingham — more than 70 miles away from Brighton on the Medway Estuary.
By then even Bellotti’s own party had had enough, and he was duly deselected as Liberal Democrat candidate for Eastbourne’s Park ward for the forthcoming East Sussex County Council elections.
In the light of all this, it is perhaps surprising that Bellotti ever managed to hold elected office again. In fact he did, but only by moving more than 100 miles away to Bath where he initially worked as election agent for Don Foster MP.
Now 65, Bellotti was elected councillor for Lyncombe ward on Bath and North East Somerset council in May 2003, and re-elected in May 2007. On 8 May this year he completed his political rehabilitation by becoming chairman of the council for 2008/9. So far, though, he has steered clear of any involvement with local football teams.
Paul Linford is a digital publishing manager and a former parliamentary lobby journalist