The Returning Officer

East Grinstead

In his Rural Rides, William Cobbett, later MP for Oldham (1832-5) called East Grinstead "a rotten borough and a very shabby place". In 1802 the chartist John Frost (later exiled to Tasmania for his part in the 1839 Newport riots), had stood and polled a single vote. The constituency was abolished in 1832,then revived in 1885.

In the next century there was only one non-Tory MP, the Liberal Charles Corbett, who won in 1906, helped by non-conformist opposition to the 1902 Education Act. In 1929 Labour's Evan Durbin lost by 30,000 votes to Sir Henry Cautley, who had previously lost Leeds East to the first Catholic Labour MP, James O'Grady. Durbin was a close friend of Hugh Gaitskell, and his "Politics of Democratic Socialism" (1940) marked him out as a future star, but he drowned in 1948 three years after being elected for Edmonton.

In 1970 Tony Banks fought his first parliamentary contest here, finishing third. In 1974 he lost again at Newcastle North.

This article first appeared in the 20 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, How do we stop Iran getting the bomb?