Race is on to replace Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley – learn more about trio of Conservative candidates vying to be the chosen one

Peter Lilley

Peter Lilley - Credit: Archant

Following long-serving Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley’s decision to step down, the Conservatives have announced a shortlist of three candidates to replace him to contest the seat at next month’s General Election.

Bim Afolami

Bim Afolami - Credit: Archant

The choice is set to be made on Friday between Bim Afolami, Catherine Baxendale and Shirley Soskin.

Learn more about the candidates here:

Catherine Baxendale

Catherine Baxendale - Credit: Archant

• Bim Afolami

Originally from Crowthorne in Berks, he attended Bishopsgate prep school, Eton and Oxford. He studied modern history and was vice president of the Oxford Union Society. He was then a political adviser at the House of Commons and worked in corporate law before moving onto finance as a senior executive at HSBC.

Shirley Soskin

Shirley Soskin - Credit: Archant

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The 31-year-old father of two is also a school governor and has mentored teenagers. He lives in Northampton and has previously contested the Lewisham Deptford seat in 2015, where he achieved 15 per cent of the vote, gaining 7,056 votes in a Labour stronghold. He is described as an ‘astute public speaker’.

In 2011 he said it was important to ‘push further and faster on education reforms. The Big Society is a really important concept – all we need to do is develop it over the next five to ten years.’

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He has also been quoted as saying: “Education is the main vehicle people have for personal advancement. Get rid of grammar schools and you remove that opportunity. The closure of grammar schools is one thing that Labour should look back on as a big mistake.”

His father is an NHS consultant. He is also a big sports fan and sportsman, supporting Northampton Saints and Arsenal FC. Follow him on Twitter @BimAfolami.

• Catherine Baxendale:

The 47-year-old went to Dr Challoner’s High School in Little Chalfont, Amersham – motto: Repay Evil With Good – then onto the London School of Economics where she took a BSC in Economics. She joined Procter and Gamble on its brand management scheme before joining Tesco as head of advertising, becoming one of the supermarket giants’ youngest directors. She also led Tesco’s graduate scheme for the UK and has a Masters in management.

After 16 years at Tesco she set up Ayot Consultancy Limited working with leading private and public sector organisations. Among the testimonials posted on her site was from Home-Start, the group which offers support and friendship for families – the same group which has suffered budget cuts in Herts.

In 2011 she compiled a report on behalf of former Cabinet Office minster Francis Maude which spoke of the civil service being a ‘snake pit’ that isolate and rejects outsiders – with a ‘bullying and macho culture’ and an uncollaborative, poisonous environment’.

Catherine is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

• Shirley Soskin:

The youngest of six children, French-speaker Shirley is a managing partner in Silverhawk Partners, a recruitment consultancy providing access to experienced, senior level professionals who can be hired on a flexible basis.

The 59-year-old attended Harvard Business School and has been head of communications at Coca-Cola GB. But she said ‘the moment she put her access card into the swipe at the office door and felt the aircon’ she knew it ‘wasn’t for her’. Yet within 18 months she’d left them on good terms to start her own PR company – even persuading Coca-Cola to become her first client. Putting her money where her mouth was, she drew down equity from her flat and built Clarion, a consumer public relations firm.

She adopted two daughters from China and learnt Mandarin. She said: “I got to the age of 40, wanted to have a family, and adoption seemed the best way. I didn’t want to have children with a man I wasn’t committed to and I never considered being single would be a problem. But I thought, well, I’ve got lots of love to give, these children need homes, and I’ve got one to offer. Adoption is a wonderful thing for the right people, though the process sometimes feels like running a marathon while someone constantly moves the finishing line. Parenting an adoptive child is no different to parenting any other child – put in the work to repair that damage - nurture, love, good food, a safe home - and they’ll flourish.”

She is described as being ‘driven, good-humoured and balanced’, as well as being a ‘shrewd business achiever with entrepreneurial flair and a contagious positive energy’. She also chairs City Year UK, a charity bringing young people into schools to help disadvantaged pupils.

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