Flashback to April 2005: Big-hitters turned out in race to win votes

And... they're off! At the beginning of April 2005 the starting gun was fired for a general election which saw party leaders descend on Shropshire in the run-up to the poll.

Michael Howard meets voters outside Telford International Centre in April 2005
Michael Howard meets voters outside Telford International Centre in April 2005

The Conservatives' leader of the day was Michael Howard, who rallied the Tory faithful at the Telford International Centre on Sunday, April 10, addressing an audience of about 500.

He was joined on the stage by his wife Sandra and parliamentary candidates from across the West Midlands and beyond for a keynote speech to get the Tories' national campaign under way in earnest.

Being tough on crime was one of his themes.

“We’ll give pensioners freedom from fear by putting more policemen – real policemen – on our streets,” said Mr Howard, who was standing behind a lectern with the slogan: Are You Thinking What We're Thinking?

Michael Howard delivers his keynote speech at Telford

“I don’t want members of the public looking over their shoulders. I want criminals looking round in fear.

“It’s time we gave these yobs a dose of the fear they’ve been dishing out to the rest of us.”

And in an interview just before going on stage he renewed a promise of hundreds of extra police for the West Mercia force area and to “really get to grips” with violent crime and the problems arising from binge drinking.

He claimed that violent crime had more than doubled in the Telford area since 1998.

Surprise visit

As he launched the Conservative campaign the following day, he urged the British people to "wipe the smirk off Tony Blair's face."

Labour also rolled out the big guns, with none bigger than Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown – destined of course to become Prime Minister some years later.

They came to Wellington on May 3, just two days before the poll, in a surprise visit which was part of a whirlwind tour of marginal constituencies.

Their helicopter landed at Admaston where they were waylaid by the enterprising boss of Admaston Pre-School, Angela Taylor, who rushed up to invite them to have a look around and meet the children.

Tony Blair talks to Labour supporters at All Saints Church Hall in Wellington

The pair afterwards spoke to supporters at All Saints Church Hall.

Both were keen to focus on the need for Labour supporters actually to vote, or risk the Tories sneaking into power by the back door.

And Gordon Brown got a standing ovation after claiming Britain had enjoyed one of its longest periods of economic prosperity since 1997.

The Wrekin at that time was one of the country's key marginal seats, held by Labour's Peter Bradley.

Tony Blair had called the general election on April 5, with voting taking place on May 5.

And the result? Nationally Tony Blair won a historic third term for Labour with a healthy overall majority, albeit much reduced on the 2001 result.

But it was not such good news for Labour in Shropshire, where the Tories clawed back lost territory.

Battleground

As the electoral dust settled on the 2005 general election campaign, three Tory gains and one hold saw them end up with four out of Shropshire's five Parliamentary seats.

The only place not to fall to the Tories was Telford, where Labour's David Wright had a majority of 5,406 over Stella Kyriazis.

At the time Telford was considered a safe Labour seat, and neighbouring The Wrekin a key electoral battleground with all to play for. This was borne out by the narrow 942-vote win by Tory Mark Pritchard as he beat Peter Bradley.

How things have changed. Today The Wrekin is a Tory stronghold, where Mr Pritchard sits on a record majority for The Wrekin of 18,726, and in Telford, Tory MP Lucy Allan won by 10,941 votes in 2019.

In Shrewsbury in 2005, Daniel Kawczynski for the Tories won back the seat that they had sensationally lost to Labour’s Paul Marsden in 1997, and in doing so registered a first – becoming Britain’s tallest ever MP at 6ft 8.5ins.

Marsden had held the seat in the 2001 general election but afterwards defected from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, before defecting back to Labour within hours of the 2005 election – in which he did not stand – being called.

The Lib Dems’ four-year hold on the Ludlow constituency was broken as that too turned back to blue, with Philip Dunne regaining the seat for the Tories from Matthew Green.

In North Shropshire Owen Paterson retained his seat for the Tories for a third term with an increased majority.

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