Since 1892 Cheltenham College had attracted a number of Jewish students by maintaining a Jewish boarding house, Corinth House, that allowed boys to keep to their religious observance. In 1911 the longstanding housemaster Ivan Nestor-Schnurmann handed over to Daniel Lipson who had taught at Portsmouth and Bradford Grammar Schools before joining Cheltenham College. At Nestor-Schnurmann’s request Lipson also agreed to take over as President, Secretary and Treasurer at the struggling Cheltenham Synagogue.
In 1922, the College decided the time for a separate Jewish boarding house was past. Lipson disagreed and in 1923 set up Corinth College as a separate school nearby. Independence didn’t work out and Corinth College only survived to 1935 with dwindling numbers. But the charismatic Lipson had already been elected as a Liberal county councillor in 1925 and borough councillor in 1929 and was Honorary Vice-President of the local association and a vocal critic of the Conservatives. In 1935 and again in 1937 he became Mayor of Cheltenham, but by this time the Liberals nationally had suffered a three way split, a catastrophic election defeat in 1935 and a financial crisis. Lipson remained a supporter of the coalition National Government despite its adoption of tariffs in 1932 and so nominally a National Liberal but this would have estranged him from former Liberal colleagues in the robustly pro-free trade Cheltenham association. They seem to have parted company in 1933.
The sitting MP, Tory Sir Walter Preston, had already announced he would be stepping down at the following election but in 1937 he unexpectedly resigned ahead of time due to ill health. Lipson’s name was discussed as a possible National Government candidate but the local Tories, strongly backed by Conservative Central Office, wanted their own candidate Lieutenant-Colonel R Tristram Harper. One source¹ mentions an ‘anti-Jewish whispering campaign’ but if the correspondence and speeches in the local papers are to be believed it may simply have been that he wasn’t a kosher Conservative: the Conservative Association chairman declared that he had always believed Lipson to be “one of their chief opponents” locally.
Showing his independent streak again, Lipson stood anyway, rebuffing Harper’s unconvincing offer to stand down at the subsequent election if Lipson gave him a clear run this time. An association was formed to support him and a furious by-election campaign ensued. Lipson cheekily stood using an ‘Independent Conservative’ label and polled 10,533 votes, beating the official Conservative candidate by just 339 votes.
In Parliament, he proved a gifted and frequent orator, making more speeches in his first year than his reticent predecessors Agg-Gardner and Preston had done in decades. He was at his most passionate in condemning Nazism and he was prepared to support pro-Arab land regulations on the basis that ‘at this time, Great Britain’s interests are the interests of the Jew and the Jew has not so many friends in the world to-day that he can afford to quarrel with his best friend’.
Victory in the war brought the astonishing defeat of Churchill by Attlee’s Labour Party in the 1945 General Election. Labour’s vote in Cheltenham surged too, up to nearly 30% of the vote. But Lipson’s surged even more. Standing as a ‘National Independent’, he romped home with a majority of nearly 5,000 votes and knocked the official Conservative candidate, Major William Hicks Beach, into a humiliating third place.
By 1950, it had all changed. In that year’s election, the positions were almost perfectly reversed with Hicks Beach taking the seat with a majority of nearly 5,000 and Lipson going down to defeat in third place with just 25% of the vote. Although there was a swing to the Tories at national level, and every other independent MP lost their seat as well, it seems likely that the violent birth of the state of Israel helped to end Lipson’s distinguished career. Britain’s sympathetic policy to the Arabs and its role as mandated colonial administrator of Palestine had brought it into increasing conflict with the swelling Jewish population. In 1946, Zionist terrorists blew up the King David Hotel, killing 100 people in the British army’s local headquarters. Lipson condemned it as a “murderous and senseless outrage” and was outspoken in his criticism of the Zionist campaign to establish a Jewish state, calling for a “solution just to both Jews and Arabs”. But the situation in Palestine went from bad to worse. In 1947 there were reciprocal executions of Zionist terrorists and British military hostages. Anti-semitism in Britain increased and anti-Jewish riots broke out in six British cities as the situation in Palestine deteriorated. The next year Israel was born straight into a war with its Arab neighbours which Britain nearly entered on the Arab side after Israel shot down three British Spitfires over the Egyptian border.
Even the gifted, peace-loving Lipson, who treasured the Jewish relationship with Britain, was going to struggle for re-election as a high profile Jewish MP after all this. He continued an active role in Cheltenham local politics after his defeat and was awarded the freedom of the borough in 1953, an honour given to only Agg-Gardner and Baron de Ferrières amongst his predecessors. He is still remembered in Cheltenham today.