One of the stalwarts of the Labour movement in Poole and Dorset, Tony Gardner, died in October 2011 at the age of 84. Tony, the son of a gardener was educated at the newly opened Kemp-Welch school in Poole, and then became an apprentice toolmaker. He enjoyed recalling campaigning as a young man when Labour won an overwhelming victory in the 1945 General Election. After national service, including time in Palestine, he worked in the building industry until returning to education, firstly at the Co-operative College, and then at Southampton University, where he gained a degree in Economics, and was also the President of the Students Union in 1958 to 59. He then went on to work for the Co-operative movement in the Midlands.
Tony stood against Enoch Powell in the 1964 general election, and then gained Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire for Labour in 1966, with a majority of 380. He remained a backbencher, and served on the Agriculture and Overseas Aid select committees, and way ahead of his time – he published his expenses in the local papers! In 1970 he lost his seat to Ken Clarke. He also stood for the Beeston constituency in the 1974 general election, losing in October by just 90 votes. From 1970 onwards he worked in social service training, becoming a principal information officer for the Central Council for Education & Training in Social Work, the statutory authority charged with promoting education and training in social work.
After moving back to Poole, he was the unsuccessful Labour candidate for Dorset & East Devon in the European election. In the 1990s Tony worked hard with others to revive the Labour Party in Poole. The break through came in 1995 when he gained the Alderney ward in the Council elections and became leader of the revived Labour Group – the first Labour Group of councillors in over twenty years. Success however was short lived, and in 1996 Tony lost his seat, and Labour lost its last seats on Poole Borough Council in 2003. Undaunted, Tony continued to work hard for the local community, including being a member of the cross party Bridge Action Team, campaigning for a much needed second harbour crossing. This campaign has borne fruit with the soon to be opened ‘Twin Sails’ bridge, which will bring regeneration to a large brown field site within the town. Tony also held various offices in the World Development Movement, and the Development Education in Dorset, which provides Global Education Training for teaching staff across Dorset.
His wife Eveline predeceased him and his final political act was his postal vote in May 2010. The Labour Party recognised his tireless work with a Merit Award in 2010 and the Borough of Poole also recognised his significant contribution with a Community Champion Award, also in 2010.
Tony’s enthusiasm, his passion for a better and fairer life for working people, his challenging of received ideas made him an inspiration to those with whom he came in to contact, and those with whom he worked.