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One vote changed our lives: Tributes to former Hampstead councillor

Respected local politician Rita Pomfret held her seat by just one vote in Hampstead Town

04 February, 2019 — By Richard Osley

AT first he did not quite cotton on that his political colleague wanted to do more than discuss the latest committee papers.

But, after a date that never was, former Conservative councillors Andrew Marshall and Rita Pomfret were to eventually end up married, fighting political battles and elections as husband and wife; a love which began on the campaign trail and in the Town Hall chamber.

Rita, who died on January 3, will be remembered at Monday’s full council meeting, having served as a councillor in the early 1990s.

Mr Marshall, who himself stepped down from the council last May, said: “There is a story to how we got together. After she first got elected, she suggested we meet to talk about who was going to say what at a social services committee.”

He added: “She told me years afterwards that she was hoping that we’d have a bit of dinner afterwards, but I had been so pompous and arrogant about what should be said at the committee that I hadn’t twigged – and we didn’t have that bite to eat.”

Clearly all was forgiven later. Mr Marshall added: “She won a by-election in Hampstead Town ward in 1989 and then was re-elected the following year by just one vote. That one vote was pretty significant in terms of our relationship and what happened afterwards.”

Rita’s first election win was a product of a “careful door-to-door campaign” according to the now pulped history of Camden politics by former Tory councillor Piers Wauchope.

“Rita stepped down in 1994 and, really, after that she put a lot of effort into my own campaign to be an MEP, which at one time looked like it could happen, and then I stood in a general election,” said Mr Marshall.

During Rita’s time as a councillor, the Town Hall was dominated by men and Mr Marshall said Rita had formed a bond with other women who had been elected, regardless of their political affiliation.

Rita Pomfret

Flick Rea, the Liberal Democrat councillor, attended the couple’s wedding, held four months after Rita, originally from Coventry, had stepped down.

Mr Marshall said: “She did a lot on social services and planning, and had a campaign to keep the Citizens Advice Bureau in Hampstead in existence, which didn’t quite work out. It was an age before the explosion of the internet and she kept a scrapbook which has letters from Geoffrey Finsberg congratulating her on being elected, and one from Oliver Letwin. People don’t write letters in the same way now.”

Mr Marshall returned for a second stint on the council but Rita, who had a career in banking, did not stand again. Brexit saw staunchly pro-EU Mr Marshall, a former deputy leader of the council, join the Liberal Democrats, but the couple were moving to live in Harwich.

Andrew Marshall

“Rita remained a member of the Conservative Party, though in recent years she was not active and more concerned with other things,” he said. “She thought my defection was a bit flash or self-important, given in her mind I had rightly retired. She was pro-Remain but thought that Mrs May was making the best of a bad situation now.”

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