Former MP and Councillor David Bellotti dies at 72.

More sad news tonight as we hear that the surprise Liberal Democrat winner of the 1990 Eastbourne by-election, David Bellotti, died this morning.

I remember the delight when he won the Eastbourne by-election in 1990. Just 18 months earlier, the party had been utterly gubbed in the European Elections and his victory showed that we were well and truly alive. Sadly he lost his seat at the General Election two years later.

In latter years, he lived in Bath where he was Don Foster’s agent and a Councillor on Bath and North East Somerset Council. I know how much admiration his ward colleague Katie Hall had for him.

I just had a wee look at Hansard to look at the sort of issues he talked about. You can tell a lot about someone by the things they raise in their maiden speech. 25 years ago, he was talking about mental health and social care:

My constituents are also concerned about health care. The number of hospital beds availabe has decreased while the waiting lists for many operations have increased. Mentally ill patients have been discharged into the community with less than the support that they deserve. The Gracious Speech states that the Government will improve the quality of Health and Social Services”, yet the Government proceed with the opting-out proposals in adjoining areas which do not, to my constituents, address the key issue of quality. When my constituents visit their local district general hospital, they are charged 40p to use the car park. That is nothing but a disgrace and a tax on the relatives of the sick and the dying. I hope that that can be changed if there is any semblance left of a caring society.

Please feel free to share your memories of David in the comments.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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20 Comments

  • Wow. People of my vintage in the party are certainly taking a bit of a pasting at the moment! 8=(
    Never got to know David personally but impossible to over-state the boost he gave us all when he won Eastbourne. It had been three long dark years since the 1987 election. The merger fiasco had been traumatic, and the party was struggling for relevance. In retrospect, Eastbourne can be said to be the turning point. RIP

  • Gerard Thompson 11th Jun '15 - 12:02am

    I’m so sorry to hear of David’s passing.
    I got to know David at various Federal Conferences. More often than not we’d swap stories about Eastbourne past and present.
    I was only 5 in 1990, but the the by-election is oft talked about to me from party activists – not just from my local party, but from around the UK. It was always a pleasure having a catch-up with David; I was intrigued by our first ever elected Liberal Democrat to parliament and one done so from my current constituency, and he welcomed the latest updates from his old turf from the current Agent. I’m sorry we won’t have that opportunity again.
    This will be the second major passing in as many weeks for our local Party, with the death of Beryl Healy last week – another well known Party stalwart, so David’s death will come at a poignant time for long standing members in Eastbourne.
    My thoughts are with David’s family and his colleagues.
    Gerard, Agent & Organiser, Eastbourne Lib Dems

  • Chris Rennard 11th Jun '15 - 2:18am

    When David Bellotti was elected in the Eastbourne by-election on October 18th 1990, Paddy described it as “his best day as Leader.” It had been an incredibly difficult period for the party since “merger” in 1988. I wrote about that period when I was helping to run by-elections for Lib Dem Voice 20 years after the merger: https://www.libdemvoice.org/chris-rennard-happy-birthday-20-years-on-2236.html

    David Bellotti had fought in Eastbourne in 1979 and then Lewes in 1983 & 1987. His opponent in the 1990 by-election was the defeated Tory MP from Scunthorpe at the previous General Election. Eastbourne Lib Dems had outpolled the Tories in the May 1990 local elections and our campaign then overturned a 16,000 Conservative majority. Paddy predicted during the by-election that if we won (which he didn’t expect!) Mrs Thatcher would resign. We won and six weeks later Mrs Thatcher went.

    David did not retain the seat in 1992 and it was Tory until Stephen Lloyd won it back in 2010. In the meantime, David moved to Bath was agent for Don Foster and played a big role there as a Councillor.

    I will always remember him for the scenes outside the Cumberland Hotel in Eastbourne where he was pictured with Paddy on the morning after the by-election victory. He helped to save the party, and to remove Mrs Thatcher.

  • David was a brilliant MP and Councillor. Local govt and the party was in his blood.

    His other achievement was to stand twice in Lewes, developing it into the seat that Norman Baker would go on to win.

  • It is sad to hear about David Bellotti’s passing and the importance of the morale boost of his Eastbourne by-election victory has already been highlighted.

    However he will be remembered by many for his role as CEO at Brighton and Hove Albion FC when the Goldstone Ground was contraversially sold. I wonder if David came to regret his involvement n that.

  • David Rogers 11th Jun '15 - 8:07am

    David and I first met when he was in Lewes and I was in Brighton, and I then was his agent for the 1983 and 1987 General Elections. He was a key member of my group on East Sussex County Council, and became chair of the Education Committee in 1985 when we ‘conspired’ with the co-opted members! I worked as part of the team with Chris Rennard, Candy Piercy, David Allworthy, and many others for the Eastbourne byelection 1990. Much more ensued over the time since then, including the much-misrepresented Brighton & Hove Albion saga, and in later years working together again at the Local Government Association.

  • As Vice Chair of Bath and North East Somerset David was admired and loved. I knew him at the time of Eastbourne but I didn’t see him again ’til I moved to BathNES in 2013 and he hadn’t changed, indeed he was to be Steve Bradley in Bath and Wera Hobhouse in NES Agent before illness took over, he will be missed here.

    Ray Love
    Peasedown St John
    Bath

  • David Evans 11th Jun '15 - 9:38am

    I have good memories of the Eastbourne by-election, where I was fortunate enough to be on a course in London at the time and so could travel down in the evening to help. A great result and a very pleasant man. How we need more results like that and more men and women like him now.

  • Alison Clish-Green 11th Jun '15 - 9:49am

    I got to know David Bellotti through my partner, David Rogers, and worked with him on South West Councils. A great loss to the Lib Dems. My thoughts are with his wife & children. RIP

  • I’m very sad to hear of David’s death – I got to know him well when I was the campaigns officer for Western Counties and David has become Don’s agent in Bath. He had a strong and lively sense of mischief, a sharp humour and a quick retort for most things.

    I recall his pride when he managed (briefly) to achieve a paperless desk – he observed it was only possible as the MP was busy in London. He spoke with huge pride when he was elected a councillor on Bath and north East Somerset. David had a sense of propriety but was always keen to prick pomposity. When he was chair of council in Bath in 2009 I remember his delight when he took part in the Widcombe Rising and was arrested and tried as Chairman of the Council to raise money for charity.

    He spoke with great affection of his small part in Liberal survival through the Eastbourne by-election and especially of the observation that his acceptance speech at the by-election was later described by Paddy as one of the best he had heard.

    But David could always be difficult if he tried and often he tried hard. When he joined the LGA Board dealing with issues facing young people he caused merry hell as he insisted that young people be allowed to address the “ageing councillors” (his words); he became angry and almost vexatious in insisting that mental health issues faced young people as well as older people “you might think I’m mad, but you are fools if you ignore their plight” (his words); and he insisted that a young person who was shadowing him for the week attended the closed briefings as well as the open meeting “lock her out and you throw me out” (his words).

    Best wishes David, and best wishes to your family as the remember you with love and affection. Ed x

  • Nicholas Bennett 11th Jun '15 - 12:50pm

    As Membership Secretary of the Association of Former MPs I’m shocked to hear of David’s death. He was a member of our Executive Committee and a regular attender at events. He seemed to be in excellent health last time I saw him and his usual cheerful and friendly self. A really nice man whom we will all miss.

  • James Lloyd 11th Jun '15 - 2:11pm

    I’d like to echo Ed Fordham’s comments about what a wonderful advocate David was for young people.

    I’d knocked my first doors in the Eastbourne by-election as a keen 17 year old politics A Level student. I was at the Cumberland Hotel the night David was held aloft on the shoulders of a delighted local party membership. I remember vividly the night David became the very first MP elected as a Liberal Democrat. Within a few weeks I got a call from his assistant asking if I’d be interested in helping set up a Young Lib Dems in Eastbourne. This is something David was keen on doing and he didn’t just pay it lip service either.

    I remember asking if I could shadow him for a day for a media project I was doing for my sixth form studies and he readily agreed. I remember the support he gave my father when he stood for Eastbourne Borough Council. And when I left Eastbourne for university in 1992, even though he was no longer MP, he wrote me a letter to thank me for what I’d done with the Young Lib Dems and to wish me luck with my studies.

    After that I didn’t see David until 2009 when I was attending party conference. I bumped into him and despite the passing of 17 years he saw my name badge, shook me by the hand and asked after me and my father. We caught up on the state of the party, how he was getting on in Bath and about how my career had been since my days in Eastbourne.

    He was a great MP and a decent and kind man. Rest in peace David.

  • More sad news.
    David Bellotti’s links with Eastbourne go back before the 1990 bye-election.He applied to be a candidate in the late 1970s. I remember the look of surprise on his face at the selection meeting when he won the vote and him telling his equally surprised wife.
    Someone at a party meeting once asked him if he was Italian, no he said its an old Cornish name.
    At the 1979 election one leaflet had a picture of David playing snooker. Afterwards I heard people asking each other,”Will you vote for the Snooker Man?’
    During the campaign one old Labour geyser shouted at me,”‘e will do worse of all”. He didn’t. He held second place .

  • David was a tremendous servant of the Party. I first knew him in the 1980s when I was the agent for Hastings and he chaired the East Sussex Area Group which co-ordinated Liberal activities across East Sussex. In 1985 the Tories lost control of the East Sussex County Council (for the first time, I think, and which in those days included Brighton and Hove). If memory serves me correctly, there were 35 Tories, 20 Liberals (including six from Hastings – how times change), 1 SDP and 14 Labour. As David Rogers, then our excellent Group Leader, has already noted, David Bellotti became Chair of the Education Committee. Tory cuts were reversed and to my great pleasure every child in the school where I taught was able to have his or her own text book. David was a gentleman and I shall miss our very occasional trips down memory lane.

  • Richard underhill 11th Jun '15 - 8:10pm

    When David Bellotti brought a group of people from Eastbourne to the south-east regional executive we had just had a successful fundraising and were able to offer £5,000 as seedcorn money. The Liberal Democrat News did a fundraising. Candidates, councillors and party officers came in from more than 100 miles away, providing a skilled group of canvassers to add to the strong local party.

    HQ staff including Duncan Brack also came down, computers run faster now. Absolutely key was the agent. Paul Jacobs, who had come from the Isle of Wight where we had a Liberal MP. After the victory people said it was exceptional, which it was. It was exceptionally difficult because the former Tory MP had been murdered by the IRA.

    Former Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine listed Eastbourne as one of three reasons why he had changed his public stance about challenging Margaret Thatcher for the Tory leadership. John Major became PM, without a general election, sacked the Tory chairman and appointed the “voter friendly” Chris Patten. He also sent the Home Secretary to the Lords and caused a by-election in the Ribble Valley, taking advice that they would not lose it. Paul Jacobs was agent again. We won again and lots of campaigners reported that they had also won at the bookies. The momentum took us on to a by-election win in Kincardine and Deeside with Paul Jacobs as agent, and Chris Patten got an early bath at the 1992 general election.

  • Kathy Al hajeri 11th Jun '15 - 9:09pm

    David, good friend, great father and loving husband. Will be missed not propping up the bar at Widemouth Bay this year. Our love and best wishes to Jo and the kids.

  • Jay Risbridger 12th Jun '15 - 6:10pm

    It was such sad news to hear that David had succumbed to his illness and my thoughts are very much with his family. I was very proud to be selected to step into his shoes, at short notice, to try and retain his lyncombe ward council seat. We had other things than politics in common as I am from Brighton originally and I have also been, like David a Man U supporter for over 30 years. Football was David’s passion and to set the record straight on Brighton FC, the club may not now be in the wonderful Amex stadium had David not kept it solvent by moving it into the Preston Park ground. All David’s politics was informed by his desire to help young people achieve their potential and his children can be immensely proud of the their father. So long David, you could be both charming, and exasperating but what a character, you will be remembered for a long time by all who knew you.

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