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 Nestor Schnurmann handed over to Daniel Lipson who had taught at Portsmouth and Bradford Grammar Schools before joining Cheltenham College. At 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. In 1935 he became Mayor of Cheltenham, by which time he seems to have drifted away from the Liberals although he remained a supporter of the coalition National Government. The following year the sitting MP for the National Government, Tory Sir Walter Preston, retired and Lipson’s name was discussed as an obvious successor. Whether because he wasn’t a kosher Conservative or because (says one source) of an ‘anti-Jewish whispering campaign’, the Tories picked Lieutenant-Colonel R Tristram Harper instead. Showing his independent streak again, Lipson stood anyway. 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.