THE Liberal Democrats claim that change is imminent after their most successful election night in 25 years.
At the Gosport local election last night, the Lib Dems gained six of the 18 available seats from rival parties.
While the Tories maintain a majority, the Lib Dems have warned that ‘change is coming’ as they set themselves up for the next local election in two years’ time.
The party won crucial battles in Leesland – where two seats were up for grabs – as well as Rowner and Holbrook, where a majority of seven allowed Murray Johnston to take Conservative Patrick Bergin’s seat.
Despite not gaining any seats, the Conservatives held onto eight seats, including Alverstoke, Peel Common and Grange.
Elsewhere, Labour’s presence in the council has been reduced to two seats – both in the Town ward, after party leader Cllr June Cully fended off Conservative candidate and former police sergeant Lesley Meenaghan.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Cllr Peter Chegwyn says that he is ‘over the moon’ with how the night went.
He said: ‘I am absolutely delighted by what has happened tonight.
‘This is the best set of results that we have had here for 25 years.
‘To win more seats than the Conservatives on the night really speaks for itself – people wanted a change in the way this town is run and we promise to provide a constructive opposition to a failing Conservative administration.’
But despite the losses suffered tonight, leader of Gosport Borough Council Cllr Mark Hook remains optimistic about the party’s future.
He said: ‘I think the most important thing is that we have retained control of the council, and we are delighted that we held onto the seats we did.
‘It is always disappointing to lose seats but overall it’s been a pleasing night.
‘We also lost a lot of those seats by very small margins – and the seats we have kept hold of we do have majority increases, which is very encouraging to see.
‘We have to put it all into perspective – we are mid-term in a government that isn’t very popular and is having difficulties.
‘The national picture hasn’t helped us and neither have the campaign styles of other parties.
‘We will learn from what has happened tonight, but we are still in control of the council and will continue to look after the people of Gosport.’
But Cllr Peter Chegwyn believes that change is on the horizon – with this year’s election results setting a precedent for the years to come.
He said: ‘I believe that there is every chance that the Liberal Democrats can take control of the council in two year’s time.
‘Mark Hook’s days are numbered – he’s not a likeable person and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Conservatives get rid of him.
‘I think we ran a very positive campaign with hard work and great candidates – it has simply been better than other parties.
‘They feel that Gosport is being run into the ground and want to try something else.
‘We will provide a much more vigorous opposition to the Tories – and the next election can’t come soon enough.’
The turnout for this year’s local election was 33.29 per cent – an increase of nearly two per cent from 2016.
The news comes after the town was one of five places in the UK to trial the voter ID scheme, where voters were required to bring a form of photo ID to cast their ballot.
Labour Party leader Cllr June Cully says that a few people have been turned away for not having sufficient ID.
She said: ‘I know of half a dozen people who have been turned away for not having the right ID – including an 88-year-old woman.
‘It is a real worry, but because there has been a lot of advertisement most people have turned up with ID.’
But Cllr Mark Hook claims that the pilot scheme has been a success in the town.
He said: ‘Photo ID was talked about a great deal when I went round to quite a few of the polling stations.
‘Interestingly there was more people in favour of it than we’re speaking against it, because it safeguards your vote.’