May the 1st 1997 was polling day in the General Election. And as people still ask about that astonishing night in 1997. Were you still up for Portillo?
After 18 years of Conservative government it seemed certain that Labour would return to power under the leadership of Tony Blair but the size of the victory proved to be unexpected. Labour enjoyed a landslide victory and their greatest election triumph since 1945.
As always with elections, the polls closed at 10pm and in Brighton and Hove progress at counting was slow. The Dome was packed with supporters and expectant campaigners waiting for results. Hopes were high: Labour had only ever successfully elected one MP in the history of Sussex before that night. And Dennis Hobden’s election is the stuff of myth.
After several recounts at the 1964 general election count he was finally declared winner by a margin of seven votes. But he was returned again in 1966 but lost out in 1970 and was unsuccessful in the 1974 elections.
1997 saw three Labour members elected. David Lepper won Brighton Pavilion. Des Turner was successful in Brighton Kemptown and Ivor Caplin unexpectedly took Hove.
As the Brighton Pavilion count neared announcement, such was the annoyance at the scale of his humiliation, apparently the sitting Tory MP Sir Derek Spencer refused to take the stage. When word of that got out he was loudly mocked by the the awaiting (baying?) crowds and disappeared from Brighton politics that night never to be seen again.
Such was the unlikelihood of Hove going red it is reported that on a private jet down from his Sedgfefield constituency, on his way to Downing Street via Buckingham Palace, that Blair was told the news that Labour had taken Hove. Apparently the the surprised soon-to-be-new PM just said: “Fuck.”
On the morning of May 2nd 1997, the city’s three new MPs were paraded through town on an open top double decker bus as jubilant Labour supporters sang “we’ve got three MPs on this bus!” (All three seats remained Labour until 2010.)