THE Lib Dems in Portsmouth defied a national collapse in the party vote by winning their largest number of seats at a city council election.
They went into the local elections defending 10 seats in the city.
But despite suffering a bad night at the polls across the UK, the Portsmouth Lib Dems managed to hold onto nine wards – losing just the Copnor seat.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who increased his majority in the Milton seat, said: ‘It was a really good result.
‘It’s the best result we have ever had in the city.
‘We’ve never won nine out of the 14 seats before.
‘In other parts of the country the Lib Dems have suffered badly.
‘But in this city people have still given us support.
‘I think that’s because if you prove that you can run the business element of the council they will support you to do other things.
‘We’ve proved we can do that, as we come in under budget each year and I think that’s why we have stayed in control of the council.’
The Lib Dems held onto wards such as Baffins, St Jude, Nelson, and Charles Dickens but lost Copnor, which they had won on the back of a campaign to save Copnor fire station.
The Labour group’s vote increased across the city.
And although they could only hold the one seat they were defending, group leader Jim Patey regarded the result as a step forward.
He said: ‘We surprised a few people.
‘Next year it will be ours.
‘It’s a good springboard for the future.
‘We have been in the doldrums for a good many years now.
‘Last year many people predicted that I would lose my seat and we were very pleased that didn’t happen.
‘But this year lots of people have come back to us.
‘We have been surprised and delighted by support people have shown us across Portsmouth this year and we will build on that to become a force across the city again.’
The Tories had a chance to take back control of the council if they had gained five seats.
But group leader Steve Weymss admitted his party were very disappointed with the results.
They managed to gain just the Copnor seat while also holding three seats.
He said: ‘Of course we are very disappointed and we hope to do much better. To be fair to the Liberal Democrats they bucked the national trend as nationally their party achieved way below what they did here.
‘In part I think that’s because they dropped Nick Clegg from their campaign literature this year.
‘I haven’t yet had time to analyse all of the election counts, but in many cases there’s reason to be cheerful.
‘In many cases such as St Thomas ward, we came very close, but just not close enough.
‘It’s all part of the democratic process.’
The current make-up of the council is now Liberal Democrat 23 seats, Conservative 17, and Labour two.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said of the result: ‘This is not a reflection on the individual councillors who have won their seats, it’s a reflection on every single councillor we have as well as the whole party in this city.
‘Everyone has worked so hard to improve the city in the years we have been in charge of the council.
‘This result proves that people in the city recognise what has been done.’
Cllr Vernon-Jackson added that the loss of the Copnor ward was expected.
He said: ‘We took it in a by-election on an issue that no longer exists. We didn’t expect to hold Copnor, it’s a shame to lose it but it has been an excellent night for us.’
One high profile victory for the Lib Dems came in the Nelson ward, where Cllr Leo Madden won despite having changed party from Labour since the last election.
Labour had hoped to take the seat but instead Cllr Madden increased his majority from 123 to 149.
Cllr Madden, who has been on the council for two decades, said: ‘When we were going door-to-door I wasn’t nervous.
‘We have been doing lots of work and people on the doorsteps said they would vote for me.
‘But when we saw the votes being pulled out the ballot box I saw lots of Labour votes and I admit I was concerned for a while. I’m delighted to have won the seat and I’m very grateful to the people of Nelson for returning me for the eighth time.’