1:27pm Friday 2nd May 2008
By Matt Smith
TORIES last night swept back to overall control in Southampton for the first time in 24 years in a sensational victory that cost the seats of both the Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders.
It was the first test for the joint Labour and Lib Dem administration that seized power from the Conservatives in a February budget row over service cuts.
But the alliance, dubbed a "two-headed beast" by Labour leader June Bridle, was slain by a Tory landslide.
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They gained eight seats, 15 of the 17 up for grabs, giving them a four-seat majority. Labour lost four of its six councillors standing for re-election and the Lib Dems lost all three of theirs.
The Tories will now run the council for two years because there are no local elections next year.
Tory group leader councillor Alec Samuels said: "The public did not care for a Lib Lab pact because they weren't consulted."
Tory deputy leader councillor Royston Smith said: "We always said the public would judge them and their unholy alliance. Tonight they have done so and we've decapitated both heads of the beast. Labour are a spent force in the city."
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Labour leader Cllr Bridle in Sholing and Lib Dem leader Adrian Vinson in Porstwood, both veteran councillors, lost to young Conservative challengers. They refused to face the results in public after attending the count behind closed doors. It was left to their deputies to try to put a brave face on the devastating results.
Labour group deputy leader councillor Jacqui Rayment said: "It was not a good night for us. I think there are a whole range of reasons and the national picture didn't help.
"The Tory campaign has been quite slick. We lost wards we didn't expect to lose and didn't lose ones we expected to. We need to rethink and check our policies are the right ones."
Lib Dem group deputy councillor Jill Baston said: "It's very bad news not just for us as a party but devastating for the city. I don't believe a Tory overall majority is a good thing for the city."
Both refused to rule themselves out of the leadership contests that will now unfold in coming days.
Labour Cabinet member councillor Richard Williams also failed to show his face despite narrowly holding his Woolston seat.
Elsewhere Lib Dem Cabinet member Ann Milton lost in Swaythling. And veteran Labour councillor Dennis Harryman lost Redbridge.
Labour mayor councillor Stephen-Barnes Andrews held on to Bevois.
Conservative Neil Fitzgerald, a 25-year-old cruise industry analyst who came third last year in Coxford, got one of the loudest cheers as the Sholing result was announced.
"The voters have rejected the coalition," he said. "It's a ringing endorsement of our position and our policies. I'm just overwhelmed and so pleased."
Champagne flowed Fellow fresh faced Tory candidates queued up to take the stage of the Guildhall to be announced victors like a procession at a university graduation ceremony. Champagne and beer flowed as the size of the victory become clear.
Cllr Samuels said: "We put forward positive policies and many of our candidates are energetic young people. "It's quite clear that Labour and Lib Dem polices have failed in the city and the public were satisfied with our performance."
Tory strategists put their win down to a rejection of the Lab Lib pact as well as national issues such as the row over the Government's axing of the 10p tax rate.
They admitted a controversial policy approved locally by the Labour and Lib Dem administration to charge residents to park outside their homes also gave them a huge boost.
The administration insisted they had no plans to implement it after it sparked public outrage and a Daily Echo campaign for a U-turn. The issue was seized upon by the Tories.
The city's Labour MP for Itchen John Denham said: "It was always going to be a difficult election for us against the backdrop of the international credit crunch, food and fuel prices.
"Locally the outrageous and untrue campaign about residents parking hit us quite badly.
"In the area of residents' parking schemes it was the key local issue.
"Our own vote stayed strong but the Lib Dem vote collapsed and went into the Tories.
"As a local party we will have to show to people we have listened to the issues and will respond to them."
Greens and UKIP failed to make a breakthrough.
Council legal chief Mark Heath said despite the loss of the council's leader and deputy leader it still had a "valid executive".
The full council next meets on May 14 when it will appoint a new Tory leader and Cabinet.
Read more in today's Daily Echo
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