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60 years of fighting for the town that tips the country

By This is Kent  |  Posted: April 23, 2010

  • New boy: Gwyn Prosser made the front page as he rode a Labour landslide into the Commons in 1997. Top right, how the Express reported the Conservative loss in 2005

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WITH the 2010 general election campaign now in full swing, veteran Express reporter Terry Sutton looks back at Parliamentary elections in Dover over the years.

ONE feature of general elections in Dover since the end of the Second World War is the way the policies of the victors have swung from left to right and back again.

It has been claimed that he who wins Dover wins the country.

In 1945 Labour's J R Thomas beat the Tories by 1,682 votes, but before the war, and long before I started covering elections, the Conservatives had a strong grip on the constituency. In 1931 Major J J Astor was returned with a near 20,000-vote majority over Labour.

These were the days of rowdy election meetings. The police were often called.

The first general election I covered for the Dover Express was in 1950, when there were four candidates, including the Communist Bob Morrison who was furious when he received only 474 votes. He attacked as traitors what he described as the working class. The clear winner was Conservative candidate Major John Arbuthnot.

These were the days when huge crowds stood outside Dover Town Hall on election night to hear the results announced from the Zeebrugge Bell balcony. As a reporter I was allowed to join the candidates on the balcony.

Major Arbuthnot remained the victor in four successive elections from 1950 to October 1964, when he was beaten by Labour's David Ennals in a three-cornered fight. Mr Ennals held the Dover seat until June 1970, when he was defeated by Conservative barrister Peter Rees.

Mr Rees remained Dover's MP until 1987 when he handed over the Tory banner to David Shaw.

There was a particularly interesting election in May 1979 when the National Front was among the five candidates.

To counter the NF, the late Jeremy Fox stood for the Silly Party and got about double the number of votes cast for the NF. Peter Rees won easily with a near 8,000 majority.

Current MP Gwyn Prosser fought his first Parliamentary election in April 1992 when there was a record seven candidates (and a turnout of 83.6 per cent of electors) but he failed to unseat Mr Shaw by 833 votes.

Despite the high turn-out of voters, there were fewer in the crowd waiting outside the Town Hall and at one stage the returning officer allowed those waiting for the result to enter the Stone Hall while the count continued in the adjacent Connaught Hall.

Five years later, in May 1997, Labour swept to power throughout much of Kent and Mr Prosser defeated Mr Shaw. He has remained Dover and Deal's MP ever since.

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