Eastleigh’s ruling Liberal Democrats tightened their vice like grip on the Town last night by regaining the two seats they had lost to defectors who had turned Independent.
In a night, which consisted largely of a series of anti-climaxes, ward after ward tumbled to the Lib Dem party machine leaving them in control of 40 out of 44 available seats – in direct contrast to their fortunes in other parts of the country.
The result also means that Eastleigh Local Area Committee now joins the list of area committees that are completely under Lib Dem control.
The two Hiltingbury ward seats being contested were also retained by the Conservatives who now find themselves as a the sole four member opposition group and continues a 10 year run for them without a gain.
In the end the anticipated ‘Botley Backlash’ never happened .
Conservative campaigners had strongly supported resident action groups in Botley who are fighting council plans to develop Boorley Green. The sitting Lib Dem councillor Rupert Kyrle was made to sweat as the Botley result was the last declaration of the night and his imminent anointment as Mayor in a weeks time – a family tradition – hung in the balance.
But Deputy Mayor Kyrle comfortably held off the challenge from Conservative Graham Hunter by a 278 margin – although was much narrower than the 439 vote cushion he enjoyed when he last won the seat.
Things were much tighter in Eastleigh South, a seat vacated by the Independent Dave Broughton due to ill health.
Here unknown Lib Dem Darshan Mann beat popular Labour Parish Councillor Pete Luffman by only 13 votes following a recount.
Last year the gap between Luffman and the Lib Dem candidate was 179 votes.
Concerns over the proposed 1300 house development at Stoneham Park was a likely factor in the Lib Dems reduced support.
The other Lib Dem gain from the independents was in Eastleigh Central where popular pub landlord Simon Bancroft held off Labour’s Chris Gilkes following a particularly negative leafleting campaign which insisted that ‘Labour always comes last’ and ‘Labour cannot win here’.
Despite the Liberal Democrats attempt to write off Gilke’s chances, last night only 236 votes separated the two. This was also a considerably reduced margin over the 2010 years result when the gap was a whopping 1811 votes and in 2011 when it had shrunk to 492.
With the Conservative Michael Read coming third for the second year running it will be interesting to see if the Lib Dems will continue to distribute literature next year insisting that the Conservatives are the main threat in Central Eastleigh and that Labour ‘always comes last‘ to maintain what is a clearly successful tactic of scaring Labours core vote into voting for the Liberal Democrats by deliberately misleading them over previous election results.
Central Eastleigh also saw one of the lowest turnouts – just 27.1% down almost 11% from last year.
Although dismal weather is a factor local politicians should be alarmed that out of an electorate of 8,000 in Eastleigh central – one of the Boroughs poorest wards – little more than 2,000 people bothered to vote.
In contrast Hiltingbury East, one of the Boroughs wealthiest wards managed a 45% turnout despite the drizzle (although the turnout figure does not show the postal vote separately).
Ukip managed to come second in two wards. Martin Lyon in Bishopstoke East was within 297 votes of claiming the seat and Chris Martin in Netley Abbey also beat both Labour and the Conservatives to claim the runner up spot.
One notable feature of last night’s count was the event was streamed live on the web for the first time ever using a £6 web cam attached to a laptop.
A handful of local insomniacs joined citizen reporter Matthew Myatt online for some DIY punditry and cheeky banter. Conservative spokeswoman Maria Hutchings gave an interview as did Lib Dem Cllr Peter Wall.
A suggestion to live stream council meetings was turned down by the Cabinet last year on the grounds of cost.
Full results: Eastleigh Borough Council
Photos© Matthew Myatt