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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Battering continues for Tories in South
Charles Kennedy on the election campaign trail in the South
Lib-Dems continued southern assault on Tories
BBC South political editor Bruce Parker watches Labour and Lib Dems both snatch once 'true-blue' seats.

The Conservative heartland of the south of England has been reeling after taking two further knocks in the 2001 election.

Dorset, the only county to have remained solid Conservative after the 1997 election, now has both a Labour MP and a Liberal Democrat MP.

Liberal Democrats have been fighting hard in Dorset for many years and they were rewarded with a win in Mid Dorset and North Poole.

Results were bolstered by turnouts being generally higher than the rest of the country, with many constituencies registering more than 60 per cent of people going to the ballot box.

Slim majorities

Annette Brooke beat the former Conservative MP, Christopher Fraser, by 681 votes.

In South Dorset, Labour's Jim Knight beat Ian Bruce by 153 votes - Mr Bruce had been the constituency's MP for 14 years.

Mrs Brooke was one of three Lib Dem female candidates across the country, including Sue Doughty in Guildford, who unexpectedly sneaked past the finishing post ahead of their opponents.

Mrs Brooke emerged with the slimmest of majorities on just 384, following a recount.

Dorset breakthrough

Speaking as the celebrations began Mrs Brooke said: "We are really thrilled and delighted as this is a breakthrough in Dorset."

But of the national low turnout she added: "Politicians have got to ask serious questions about this because it is important for democracy that people engage in it."

In East Sussex, Labour held on to its seaside seats of Portsmouth North, Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown, Hove and Hastings.

Sussex dominance

Before the last election, only one Sussex seat had ever had a Labour MP.

The Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, called Brighton Kemptown his 'prestige' seat when Dennis Hobden won it in 1964 after no fewer than seven recounts, an electoral record.

The Liberal Democrats hung on to seats in what Paddy Ashdown called his 'golden box', the three constituencies of Eastleigh, Winchester and Romsey.

Winchester Lib-Dem MP Mark Oaten
Lib-Dem Mark Oaten retained majority

In Winchester, Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten built on his 21,556 majority of 1997, by reaching nearly 22,700.

He clinched nearly 10,000 more votes than his nearest rival, Conservative Andrew Hayes.

Mr Oaten had been at the centre of a dramatic election re-run in November 1997, after the May poll, which had declared him the winner by just two votes.

After the result was declared, Mr Oaten said of his majority: "That feels a lot better than two I can tell you.

"Can I thank the people of Winchester who for the third time have put their trust in me."

Sandra Gidley had won Romsey at a by-election last year after the death of the Conservative MP, Michael Colvin, in a house fire.

Elsewhere in the region, the Liberal Democrats held Newbury and Portsmouth South.

Heartland remains

Nevertheless, the south of England does still remain the Conservative heartland with one fifth of all its seats held in the region.

However, only one MP can be considered as a possible successor to William Hague as leader - Francis Maude, the MP for Horsham.

His father, Angus, was a member of Mrs Thatcher's cabinet.

Mr Maude was returned to the Commons at Horsham in 1997 after losing his North Warwickshire seat in 1992.

He'd been Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the 1987 Thatcher government.

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