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Elections

Introduction

Kent Constituency 1236 - 1832

We are used to the idea of each constituency being of equal size, but this is a comparatively new idea. Before 1832 each incorporated borough returned 2 MPs. Kent had 8 boroughs (Rochester, Maidstone, Canterbury, Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Queenborough, New Romney), the latter two were "rotten" boroughs - New Romney had only 8 electors! This left the rest of the county, including Hartley, to be represented by 2 MPs. Of course only a tiny fraction of people were entitled to vote. Only male freeholders with land worth 40 shillings per annum could vote. This meant Hartley had only 3 electors

The earliest Parliament is thought to be in 1236 when each shire sent two knights to represent them.  It was not until Simon de Montfort's parliament of 1264 that they were required to be elected though.  His parliament was also the first to allow boroughs to send 2 MPs too.  15th century returns suggest that elections were held at Rochester or Canterbury.  One notable member was Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales, who was MP for Kent in 1386.  Analysis by Roskell and others suggest that the majority of MPs were middling in wealth, but about a fifth were not particularly wealthy. Counting the votes at Southwark (Illustrated London News 10 April 1880)

Counting the votes at Southwark (Illustrated London News 10 April 1880)

West Kent Constituency 1832 - 1885

In 1832 the Great Reform Act remedied the worst abuses of the old system, it was passed in the teeth of opposition which included the Conservatives and the bishops. Overall Kent went from 18 to 16 MPs, but the vast county division was divided into East and West, so representation was slightly improved for Hartley. This Act introduced electoral registers for the first time.

The next boundary changes were in 1867, when the West Kent division was split into West Kent and Mid Kent because of population increases. In addition the Gravesend Borough Constituency was created. Hartley lay at the eastern extremity of the West Kent seat, something of a familiar theme in the years to come. We were still a long way from the modern system.

These early elections were subject to rough and tumble which make modern elections seem fairly tame.  At the 1832 election the successful Lib (Liberal) candidate Thomas Rider said he "had been witness to such a system of corruption and intimidation that he was convinced that a full and fair expression of the elective franchise could not be secured without [the secret ballot]", it was said that most voters in Blackheath were intimidated not to vote for him (Liverpool Mercury 28.12.1832, Morning Chronicle 31.1.1833).  In the 1859 election the Conservatives were rumoured to be behind a gang of roughs who ran riot in Dartford on election day (Daily News 9.5.1859).  The Liverpool Mercury said "The Tories are accused, not only of  resorting to all the ordinary agencies and artifices that could possibly be employed at the late election, that is of having used bribery, corruption, intimidation, coercion etc, but of having enlisted .... the lowest ruffians of the prize ring....." (Liverpool Mercury 23.5.1859). Reading the Result (Illustrated London News 10 April 1880)

Election Candidate Votes Majority
18/19 Dec 1832 Thomas Law Hodges (Lib)
Thomas Rider (Lib)
Sir William Geary (Cons)

3,380
3,107
2,488

New Seat.
Hodges & Rider elected (Lib 2)
22 Jan 1836

Sir William Geary (Cons)
Thomas Law Hodges (Lib)
Thomas Rider (Lib)

2,558
2,093
2,007
1 Cons Gain
1 Lib Hold

7 Aug 1837

Sir William Geary (Cons)
Thomas Law Hodges (Lib)
Thomas Rider (Lib)

3,584
3,334
3,229

1 Cons Hold
1 Lib Hold

12 Mar 1838
(by election)
Sir Edmund Filmer (Cons)
Following resignation of Geary
unopposed 1 Cons Hold
6 Jul 1841 Viscount Marsham (Cons)
Sir Edmund Filmer (Cons)
unopposed
unopposed
1 Cons Hold
1 Cons Gain
25 Apr 1845
(by election)
Col Thomas Austen (Cons)
Following elevation of Marsham to Lords
unopposed Cons Hold

7 Aug 1847

Sir Edmund Filmer (Cons)
Thomas Law Hodges (Lib)
Thomas Austen (Cons)

3,219
3,127
3,082

1 Cons Hold
1 Lib Gain

19 Jul 1852

Sir Edmund Filmer (Cons)
William Masters Smith (Cons)
Thomas Law Hodges (Lib)

3,247
3,159
2,652

1 Cons Hold
1 Cons Gain

19 Feb 1857
(by election)

Charles Wykeham Martin (Lib)
Sir Walter Riddell (Cons)

3,680
3,198

1 Lib Gain

8 Apr 1857

Charles Wykeham Martin (Lib)
James Whatman (Lib)
William Masters Smith (Cons)

3,896
3,578
3,171

1 Lib Hold
1 Lib Gain

9 May 1859

Viscount Holmesdale (Cons)
Sir Edmund Filmer (Cons)
Charles Wykeham Martin (Lib)
James Whatman (Lib)

3,796
3,654
3,584
3,460

Cons Gain (2)

 22 Jul 1865

Viscount Holmesdale (Cons)
William Hart Dyke (Cons)
Sir John Lubbock (Lib)
William Angerstein (Lib)

4,133
4,054
3,896
3,861

Cons Hold (2)

2 Dec 1868

Sir Charles Mills (Cons)
John Gilbert Talbot (Cons)
Sir John Lubbock (Lib)
William Angerstein (Lib) 

3,440
3,378
3,323
3,196

Cons Hold (2)

9 Feb 1874

Sir Charles Mills (Cons)
John Gilbert Talbot (Cons)
Mr A Hamilton (Lib)
Mr E Marjoribanks (Lib)

5,295
5,227
3,391
3,346

Cons Hold (2)

15 May 1878
By Election

Viscount Lewisham
J Talbot left to fight Oxford University by election

unopposed

Cons Hold

5 Apr 1880

Sir Charles H Mills (Cons)
Viscount Lewisham (Cons)
Henry Mason Bompas QC (Lib)
John May (Farmer's Alliance)

6,113
5,986
4,857
977

Cons Hold (2)

Who did people vote for?

We are used to elections by secret ballot, but the secret ballot was not introduced until the Ballot Act 1872. Until then the votes of each person were recorded and would be published in "Poll Books". Public voting also allowed the parties to know hour by hour how they were doing in a poll. The Ballot Act is credited with abolishing the power of landlords to force their tenants to vote for them, for example one of the candidates in 1852 and 1857 was the Conservative William Masters Smith who was the landlord of George Best of Hartley, however as George Best continued to be a member of the Conservative party after 1872 this would suggest he would have voted for Mr Masters Smith anyway.

Dartford Constituency 1885 - 1918

The equal constituency system as we know it was introduced in 1885 when Hartley became part of the new Dartford (North West Kent) constituency

Universal male suffrage and the secret ballot did not stop all malpractices. At the 1886 election, a Dartford Conservative employer was accused of trying to prevent their Irish workers from leaving to vote for the Liberals (Freemans Journal 9.5.1886).

The Liberal Landslide of 1906 did not make many inroads in Kent, but history was made when James Rowlands became the first non-Conservative member for Hartley since the 1885 reforms. He stood as "Liberal-Labour" and in his 1918 election leaflet he still claimed to be that at heart, although by then he ran solely under the Liberal banner. The Conservatives made strenuous efforts to win the seat back and did so in 1910. It was mentioned that women party workers from the safe seat of Tunbridge Wells were brought to Dartford to help, still a common tactic of the parties. Elections were big spectator events then; thousands were reported to have assembled outside the Dartford Council offices to hear the returning officer declare the result (he would have already announced it to those in the hall). Mr Mitchell is said to have been carried shoulder high by his supporters to the Conservative offices (South Eastern Gazette 1.2.1910). However their success was to be brief, there was a second election in 1910 and James Rowlands was back. It was in those elections that Dartford learned what it was like to be a marginal seat, with visits from leading party members.

Election Candidate Votes Majority
4 Dec 1885 Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)
Mr J Ebenezer Saunders (Lib)
4,488
4,006
New Seat. Cons win
482
7 Jul 1886 Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)
Mr J Ebenezer Saunders (Lib)
4,198
2,965
Cons Hold
1,233
2 Feb 1887 (by election) Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)   unopposed
8 Jul 1892 Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)
Mr Jeremiah Lyon (Lib)
5,294
4,722
Cons Hold
572
18 Jul 1895 Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)
Sir Patteson Nickals (Lib)
4,693
4,557
Cons Hold
142

1 Oct 1900

Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)

 

unopposed

19 Jan 1906

Sir William Hart-Dyke (Cons)
James Rowlands (Liberal-Labour)

6,728
9,532

Lib-Lab Gain
2,804

26 Jan 1910

William Foot Mitchell (Cons)
James Rowlands (Liberal) 

9,807
8,990

Cons Gain
817

14 Dec 1910

James Rowlands (Liberal)
Willliam Foot Mitchell (Cons)

9,152
8,918

Lib Gain
234

James Rowlands and William Foot Mitchell, MPs for Dartford 1906 - 1920

Picture of James Rowlands and William Foot Mitchell

Chislehurst Constituency 1918 - 1948

In 1917 there was a new review of Parliamentary Constituencies. The Dartford seat was made smaller, to become Dartford and Erith. Most of the rural disticts of Dartford and Bromley, including Hartley, went into a new Chislehurst seat. Most of the parties who attended the Boundary Commission Enquiry at Maidstone on 24 July 1917 were happy with the this proposal. Both Conservativea and Labour supported this, however the local Liberals said a Dartford-Erith seat at 103,000 electors would be too large and that a better option would be a seat made up of Dartford and Dartford Rural District. (Gravesend Reporter 28.7.1918)

The count at the Dartford by-election 1920

In 1918 electors were presented with a choice between Conservatives and the National Party, a right wing splinter group from the Conservatives. In the end the election was won by Sir Alfred Smithers. He was a financier with several rail interests including the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada, where there is a town named after him. He was MP until 1922 and from 1924 to 1945 his son Sir Waldron Smithers was MP.

Meanwhile in our old constituency of Dartford, James Rowlands died in 1920 and Labour gained the seat in the resulting by-election. The photo above shows the count, which is little changed today, with four of the candidates anxiously watching as election staff work.

Dartford by-election 1920, address by winning candidate J Mills

Election Candidate Votes Majority
14 Dec 1918 Sir Alfred Smithers (Cons)
Capt A Edmonds (National)
8,314
2,507
New Seat.  Cons win
5,807
15 Nov 1922 Robert Nesbitt (Cons)
David Mason (Lib)
11,801
6,256
Cons Hold
5,545
6 Dec 1923 Robert Nesbitt (Cons)
Robert Nevill (Lib)
9,725
7,806
Cons Hold
1,919
29 Oct 1924 Sir Waldron Smithers (Cons)
John Thomson (Lab)
Robert Nevill (Lib)
14,440
3,757
3,647
Cons Hold
10,683
30 May 1929 Sir Waldron Smithers (Cons)
James Bateman (Lib)
John Thomson (Lab)
16,909
9.025
5,445
Cons Hold
7,884

27 Oct 1931

Sir Waldron Smithers (Cons)
W T Colyer (Lab)

32,371
5,731

Cons Hold
26,640

14 Nov 1935

Sir Waldron Smithers (Cons)
W T Colyer (Lab)
J A Williams (Lib)

38,705
12,227
5,238

Cons Hold
26,478

5 July 1945

G D Wallace (Lab)
Maj T L Fisher (Cons)
E C G Hawkins (Lib)

25,522
19,243
6,824

Lab Gain
6,279

Orpington Constituency 1948 - 1954

The next general review of boundaries had to wait for nearly 30 years by the new Boundary Commission for England which had been established by a 1944 Act of Parliament. Regular reviews of boundaries now became mandatory. Since 1918 the electorate of Chislehurst had increased from 26,801 to 110,000 so it was clear that changes were needed.  The Gravesend Reporter of 20 December 1947 announced that as a result of the review, Hartley, along with the rest of the Dartford Rural district was to be moved to Orpington constituency. This was not to the Parish Council's liking as their choices were first Chislehurst and then Dartford. They unanimously passed a motion of objection to be sent to the Home Secretary in February 1948. The following month they had decided Gravesend Constituency was a better choice. However the Orpington proposal was confirmed in July 1948. Later that year the Hartley Conservatives held a farewell party for the Chislehurst prospective candidate, Pat Hornsby-Smith (Gravesend Reporter 9.10.1948).

Hartley may have been in a new constituency but they found themselves with a familiar MP in Sir Waldron Smithers, who had been the MP for Chislehurst from 1924 to 1945. In the boundary review that followed he chose to fight the safer seat of Orpington.

Election Candidate Votes Majority
23 Feb 1950 Sir Waldron Smithers (Cons)
George Vaughan (Lab)
Lady Ruth Abrahams (Lib)
24,450
14,161
4,523
Cons hold
10,289
25 Oct 1951 Sir Waldron Smithers (Con)
R D Vaughan Williams (Lab)
27,244
16,241
Cons Hold
11,003

Dartford Constituency 1955 - 1974

Hartley was to remain in the Orpington seat for just the two elections of 1950 and 1951. The Boundary Commission wanted to create a new seat out of Dartford for Erith and Crayford (Times, 20.11.1954), which meant that the Rural District had to move back to the Dartford seat. For once it appears all parties were happy with the boundary change. Orpington Labour Party "wholeheartedly welcomed" the changes to Orpington. The SE Region Conservatives wanted the whole Dartford Rural District put in with Dartford Constituency as they said they look to Dartford not Orpington, and is currently divided between Chislehurst and Orpington seats. Dartford Borough Council agreed, but didn't like the name change to "County Constituency" (done when a seat has a rural component). (Source: National Archives File AF1/311)

For most of this time our MP was Sydney Irving, later Lord Irving of Dartford. He was deputy chief whip (1964-66) and then a Deputy Speaker (1966-70). Richard Crossman's diaries record the vigorous defence he put up for his constituents over the issue of New Ash Green. 1970 was one of those elections where most polls failed to detect a late swing to the Conservatives, so much so that the famous swingometer on the election night coverage had to be amended by hand. Dartford was one of those seats that probably fell at the last minute.

Election Candidate Votes Majority
26 May 1955 Sydney Irving (Lab)
Peter Walker (Cons)
25,928
21,730
Lab Hold
4,198
Turnout 81.0%
8 Oct 1959 Sydney Irving (Lab)
Peter Walker (Cons)
B C Davis (Lib)
25,323
24,047
5,881
Lab Hold
1,276
Turnout 83.0%
15 Oct 1964 Sydney Irving (Lab)
J J Davis (Cons)
M Janis (Lib)
27,371
22,496
9,047
Lab Hold
4,875
Turnout 81.5%
31 Mar 1966 Sydney Irving (Lab)
Peter Trew (Cons)
Peter Loftus (Lib)
29,547
22,638
7,094
Lab Hold
6,909
Turnout 80.8%
18 Jun 1970 Peter Trew (Cons)
Sydney Irving (Lab)
J P Johnson (Lib)
27,822
27,262
5,453
Cons Gain
560
Turnout 74.0%

Sevenoaks Constituency 1974 - 1983

From 1974 to 1983 Hartley was part of the ultra-safe Conservative constituency of Sevenoaks. For most of the time our MP was Sir John Rogers, who had been MP since 1950 and had spent most of his career on the backbenches, as one of the "knights of the shires". I am not sure, but I seem to remember that Mr Scanlan, the Labour candidate in 1974 may have run a shop in New Ash Green.

Election Candidate Votes Majority
28 Feb 1974 Sir John Rodgers (Cons)
Ian Bradley (Lib)
J Scanlan (Lab)
D J Woolard (Independent)
29,936
16,223
14,987
754
Boundary Changes
Cons 13,713
Turnout 83.4%
10 Oct 1974 Sir John Rodgers (Cons)
J Scanlan (Lab)
Robert Webster (Lib)
26,670
15,065
15,024
Cons Hold
11,605
Turnout 75.7%
5 May 1979 Mark Wolfson (Cons)
R H Redden (Lab)
G Phillips (Lib)
M Easter (National Front)
36,697
14,583
11,839
821
Cons Hold
22,114
Turnout 79.0%

Dartford Constituency 1983 - date

Boundary changes in 1994 meant that New Ash Green was transferred to Sevenoaks constituency. This had the effect of notionally reducing the Conservative majority in 1992 from 17.2% to 14.7%. Hartley Parish Council then campaigned to be in Sevenoaks too, because they believed (wrongly) that Hartley would be included in plans for the East Thames corridor.

The boundaries were looked at again in 2005. As well as looking at population changes, the commission had to consider recent changes to local government boundaries, which meant for example Hartley and Hodsoll Street ward was split between two constituencies.  This time Hartley's local Conservatives made cause with Labour to favour a move to Sevenoaks Constituency.  The national Conservative party argued for Hartley to remain in Dartford.  Following a 5 day public enquiry held in Ashford the chairman of the enquiry recommended that Hartley remain in Dartford constituency, partly because it would be the minimum change option and partly because evidence from Dartford Borough Council and others that Hartley has more in common with Dartford than Sevenoaks.  He particularly praised Dartford Borough Council's submission as a model for others to follow.  Further details and a transcript of the public enquiry can be found at the archived version of the Boundary Commission's website.

Election Candidate Votes Majority
9 Jun 1983 Bob Dunn (Cons)
D Townsend (Lab)
J Mills (Lib/Alliance)
A H Crockford (Fancy Dress)
G E Nye (National Front)
28,199
14,636
11,204
374
282
Boundary Changes
Cons Win 13,563
Turnout 76.4%
11 Jun 1987 Bob Dunn (Cons)
B J Clarke (Lab)
M G Bruce (SDP/Alliance)
Keith Davenport (Fancy Dress)
30,665
15,756
10,439
491
Cons Hold
14,929
Turnout 79.0%
9 Apr 1992 Bob Dunn (Cons)
Howard Stoate (Lab)
Peter Bryden (Libdem)
A Munro (Fancy Dress)
Angela Holland (Natural Law)
31,194
20,880
7,584
262
241
Cons Hold
10,314
Turnout 83.1%
1 May 1997 Howard Stoate (Lab)
Bob Dunn (Cons)
Dorothy Webb (Libdem)
P McHale (BNP)
Peter Homden (Fancy Dress)
James Pollitt (Christian Dem)
25,278
20,950
4,872
424
287
228
Lab Gain
4,328
Turnout 74.6%
7 Jun 2001 Howard Stoate (Lab)
Bob Dunn (Cons)
Graham Morgan (Libdem)
Mark Croucher (UKIP)
Keith Davenport (Fancy Dress)
21,466
18,160
3,781
989
344
Lab Hold
3,306
Turnout 61.9%

5 May 2005

Howard Stoate (Lab)
Gareth Johnson (Cons)
Peter Bucklitsch (Libdem)
Mark Croucher (UKIP)
Michael Tibby (New England)

19,909
19,203
5,036
1,407
1,224

Lab Hold
706
Turnout 63.2%

6 May 2010

Gareth Johnson (Cons)
John Adams (Lab)
James Willis (Libdem)
Gary Rogers (English Dem)
Richard Palmer (UKIP)
Stephane Tindame (Independent)
Ernie Crockford (Fancy Dress)

24,428
13,809
7,361
2,178
1,842
264
207

Cons Gain
10,628
Turnout 65.7%

7 May 2015

Gareth Johnson (Cons)
Simon Thomson (Lab)
Elizabeth Jones (UKIP)
Simon Beard (Libdem)
Andy Blatchford (Green)
Steve Uncles (English Dem)

25,870
13,325
10,434
1,454
1,324
211

Cons Hold
12,345
Turnout 68.4%

Leaflets for the 2005 Dartford election

Leaflets from the 2005 Dartford Election

The future - Gravesham?

The Conservative government in 2010 passed a law to reduce the the number of constituencies nationwide from 650 to 600 (strangely enough commentators noted that the main beneficiaries of doing this would be the Conservatives themselves!) Needless to say this has the effect of increasing the electoral quota for each seat (that is the number electors per MP). While the existing Dartford seat met the quota, some of the surrounding seats did not, this led the Boundary Commission to propose moving Hartley into an expanded Gravesend seat.

The proposal was supported by the local Conservative and Labour parties, Labour's reasoning was that they preferred the whole of Dartford and Gravesham boroughs to be in one constituency. The Liberal Democrats however suggested that the numbers to make up Gravesend should come from Wrotham and 2 other wards in Tonbridge and Malling, they would then have added Ash parish to Dartford too. There were 4 replies from Hartley, all favoured staying in Dartford, one reluctantly supported the recommendations by acknowledging the rules the Commmission has to work under and saying Gravesend was the second best option. Hartley Parish Council having opposed staying in Dartford in the 2003 review was now in favour of staying in Dartford. The Boundary Commission upheld the proposals as regards Hartley, but accepted another proposal that Hextable and not Horton Kirby should be in the Dartford seat. Once again it was suggested that the borders of Dartford Borough are wrong and should include more parishes to the south.

One counter proposal which had a lot of support was to move Swanscombe (and possibly Southfleet too) to the Gravesend seat and include Hartley and other parishes in the Dartford seat, because Swanscombe and Southfleet clearly look to Gravesend more than Dartford. The commission rejected this because it would involve splitting Dartford Borough between two seats.

The new boundaries were due to come into force in 2013, but parliament decided to postpone the review until 2018. The new government has pledged to reinstate them then.

Background Reading

History of Parliament website (with a few gaps, gives a list of MPs and election results where known from 1386 to 1832)