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Chronicle still in poll position

With the general election safely over, The Chronicle took a look back at some of the most exciting political moments in Bath’s recent history – all of which have been covered by the paper.

This year’s Chronicle journalists were not the first to work through the night – and during its long history the paper has covered some of the most momentous elections the country has seen.

In 1945, there was the sensational defeat of Winston Chuchill as the Labour party swept to power.

Bath resident Ruth Haskins remembers the election back in the summer of 1945, when the VE celebrations were over and the war with Japan was still to be won.

The Labour party decided to make an all out assault on the city’s apparently safe Conservative seat. It chose Mrs Dorothy Archibald as its candidate, a woman who was respected for her as strong character and an excellent speaking skills.

On nomination day – the Saturday before the election – all three candidates spoke in Royal Victoria Park. And, despite the rain, 2,000 people turned up to listen, with most staying to hear all three.

On the eve of polling, mass rallies were held all over the city and were packed to the doors. Despite their efforts and Labour’s nationwide victory in the polls, Bath remained Conservative and IJ Pitman was elected MP. Ten years later and his success continued. In the Bath and Wilts Chronicle and Herald of May 27, 1955 the headline screamed: “Mr Pitman, Back Fourth Time And Increases His Majority.”

And, in turnout figures that should make modern democracy weep, more than 80 per cent of Bath’s electorate turned out to vote.

Twenty-four years later and Britain was to get its first woman prime minister.

In 1979, the Conservatives won the General Election, as Margaret Thatcher ousted James Callaghan.

The Conservatives swept to victory with bumper majorities in local election contests, which left their Labour and Liberal opponents trailing behind. Conservative MP for Bath Chris Patten won by a huge majority of 9,112, with other Tory successes chalked up in Chippenham, Devizes, North Somerset, Wells and Westbury. The Tory triumphs exceeded expectations and shattered their opponents’ hopes. Champagne corks fired a victory salvo.

On May 2 1979, The Bath Chronicle pictured Margaret Thatcher looking tired but jubilant. When the Bath results were declared at the Guildhall, victorious Tory candidate Chris Patten was carried shoulder high on a lap of honour. Mr Patten, the then jubilant director of the Conservative research department, declared: “The result exceeds our wildest dreams.”

Four years later and the Conservatives aimed to win a second term. Sure enough, on Friday June 10, 1983, The Bath Chronicle pictured Mrs Thatcher savouring the acclaim of another general election triumph.

With a couple of hours sleep, reported The Chronicle, Mrs Thatcher emerged bright-eyed and went from Downing Street to Conservative headquarters to celebrate the biggest landslide since 1945.

Chris Patten had kept his seat, although he lost votes to the Alliance, being returned with a reduced majority of 5,304.

In 1983, Mrs Thatcher became the first Tory leader since the turn of the century to win a second successive term in Downing Street and she had a command over her party which had eluded even Churchill.

It seemed there was no stopping her.

But the debate over the European Union signalled a huge split for her party.

Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned in November 1989 in protest at her dismissive attitude towards joining the EU and his resignation speech set in train events that led to her downfall later that month and a sea-change in political thinking in the country and John Major never quiet managed to replace the Iron Lady.

After 18 years in opposition, Tony Blair’s ‘New’ Labour party swept to victory in 1997, as the Tories suffered their worst general election defeat since the Second World War.

Labour won a House of Commons majority of 179 as the party’s candidates not only trounced Conservative backbenchers but also toppled a string of Tory cabinet ministers.

Conservative Party Chairman Chris Patten had dramatically lost his seat five years earlier, but 1997 was the year Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster consolidated his lead over Tory rivals, beating Alison McNair by 9,319 votes.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Guildhall in Bath waiting to hear the result. Then, the Chronicle reported, just after 2am, Mr Foster and his wife Victoria walked onto the steps together and a cheer went up as the crowd realised that the Liberal Democrat had retained his seat.

Four years on and he’s done it again.

Next time, it will be a different Tory leader heading the battle for our votes. And, as a week is as a long time in politics, four or five years is an age.

Who know what will happen – but whatever does, you can be sure The Bath Chronicle will be there to report it.

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