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Big election battleground

PUBLISHED: 15:58 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 23 August 2010

ROCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 6:  Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leader of the Labour Party and wife Sarah Brown talk to staff as they visit at Morrisons supermarket in on April 6, 2010 near Rochester in Kent, United Kingdom. Britain will vote in a general election on May 6, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday, firing the gun on what is set to be the closest poll race in nearly 20 years. Brown made the announcement in Downing Street flanked by his entire Cabinet after visiting Buckingham Palace to ask Queen Elizabeth II to issue a royal proclamation dissolving the current parliament. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

ROCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 6: Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leader of the Labour Party and wife Sarah Brown talk to staff as they visit at Morrisons supermarket in on April 6, 2010 near Rochester in Kent, United Kingdom. Britain will vote in a general election on May 6, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday, firing the gun on what is set to be the closest poll race in nearly 20 years. Brown made the announcement in Downing Street flanked by his entire Cabinet after visiting Buckingham Palace to ask Queen Elizabeth II to issue a royal proclamation dissolving the current parliament. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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GORDON Brown and David Cameron are expected to visit the borough as candidates predict the General Election battleground will decide the winner. A visit to Kent by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, when the May 6 election date was announced, appeared to snu

GORDON Brown and David Cameron are expected to visit the borough as candidates predict the General Election battleground will decide the winner.

A visit to Kent by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, when the May 6 election date was announced, appeared to snub the marginal seats of Dartford and Gravesend.

But return visits are eagerly anticipated in one of the closest fought elections in recent years with Labour's intent to fight the battle in the 'Garden of England'.

Labour candidates are confident political heavyweights will lend support, while Conservatives are hopeful their leader will visit in a bid to claim Dartford like they did Gravesham in 2005.

John Adams, who will stand in place of outgoing Dartford Labour MP, Dr Howard Stoate, said: "You can't read too much into it, the Prime Minister has an incredibly busy schedule.

"Just because he hasn't been to Dartford on this visit doesn't mean he or other ministers won't be here during this short lead up to the election.

"We know that they will be visiting, and we are still organising the final details."

Gravesham Labour candidate Kathryn Smith was equally confident of government support before polling day.

She added: "The Prime Minister is visiting Kent and going to visit Labour constituencies where they are only held by very small margins. We are definitely hoping he will be back. Kent is clearly a battleground for Labour and the Conservatives and we are confident that Labour can hold onto its seats while Gravesham can produce a shock and reverse the result in 2005.

"Gravesham is being considered seriously by the party as a possible win, we have had Hillary Benn last week and there will be other opportunities in the coming weeks.

"Obviously with security we cannot give out times and dates yet but I am very confident of that."

Dartford has been a Bellwether constituency, voting with the country in every election since 1964, but in 2005 Labour's majority slipped from 3,306 to just 706.

Gravesham was also considered a Bellwether constituency until Conservative Adam Holloway stole the seat from Chris Pond against the trend in 2005 with a slip 654 vote majority. continued on page 3

Conservative candidate for Dartford Gareth Johnson was keen for the Prime Minister to visit the town and hinted at a visit by his leader.

He said: "I hope Gordon Brown does come to Dartford at some stage it would give me an opportunity to ask him some searching questions like why he is allowing the sale of the Dartford Crossing, why there have been five Post Office closures in recent years and why people are having to be laid off at Darent Valley Hospital."

Mr Johnson was canvassing in the town centre on Tuesday when the election was announced with shadow minister for the cabinet, Francis Maude.

He added: "Aside from West Yorkshire, Kent has the most marginals in the country and with its proximity to London you will see a lot more big names coming down from both parties."

Accompanied by his wife Sarah, Gordon Brown's visit saw him travel to Kent on the High Speed Rail link to meet with candidates and residents in Strood, Aylesford and Rainham.

Meanwhile David Cameron stood outside the Houses of Parliament and urged voters to vote in the Conservatives.

Experts at The Electoral Reform Society claim most seats nationwide are already decided but considers north Kent as open contests.

Chief Executive Dr Ken Ritchie said: "Here is one county where voters won't have to move too far to see an election. The PM jumped on a Kent bound train no sooner had he finished today's call at Buckingham Palace.

"Kent's lucky voters should be the envy of the south east, because while the campaign is over before it is even began for most seats there are still a handful that matter."

North Kent election factbox

RESIDENTS in Dartford have voted in line with the nation since 1964 when Labour - under Howard Wilson - took government by a slender majority over the Conservatives, while Dartford kept faith with Labour candidate Sydney Irving since 1955.

Gravesham had an even more impressive record, voting in line with the rest of the country in every election from 1951 up to 2005 when new Conservative candidate Adam Holloway took the seat from Labour's Chris Pond as the nation decided to stick with Tony Blair's Labour.

In 2005, Dartford recorded a 63.2 per cent turnout, Dr Howard Stoate retaining his seat by a mere 1.5 per cent majority over rival Gareth Johnson.

Similarly, Gravesham was won by a slender 1.5 per cent by Mr Holloway as the constituency recorded a 65.8 per cent turnout.

Other marginal seats in north Kent include Gillingham and Rainham - where Labour enjoyed a 254-vote victory in 2005 - Rochester and Strood, which Labour kept with a 213 majority, and Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which was kept by Labour with a mere 79-seat victory.

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