JUBILANT Desmond Swayne is starting his fourth term as the MP for New Forest West.

Supporters cheered as Tory Mr Swayne was returned with a slightly increased majority.

He thanked his opponents for the courtesy with which they conducted the campaign.

He said: “The great thing about democracy is that we fight these battles with immense ferocity but the next day, we are still alive to fight again another day.

“It’s better than Valhalla.”

Defending a majority of more than 16,000, Mr Swayne entered the campaign knowing that only a massive swing to the Liberal Democrats would ruin his chances of being re-elected.

But the Lib Dems lack the huge following they enjoy in New Forest East, where the party has a strong presence on several councils.

The Lib Dem candidate, college lecturer Mike Plummer, is a councillor in neighbouring Dorset.

Two of the other candidates, Janice Hurn (Labour) and Janet Richards (Green) also contested the seat at the last General Election in 2005.

Mr Swayne, 53, has represented the area since 1997 when the old New Forest constituency was split in two.

The start of his career as an MP coincided with John Major’s departure from Downing Street and the beginning of a long spell in opposition for the Tories.

Married with three children, Mr Swayne was a teacher and then a manager with the Royal Bank of Scotland before entering the Commons.

In 2003 he served for five months in Iraq as a major in the Territorial Army.

Mr Swayne has been parliamentary private secretary to party leader David Cameron since 2004, having performed the same task for his predecessor, Michael Howard.

Before that he held shadow ministerial portfolios for Northern Ireland, health and defence, and has also been a senior Opposition whip.

His supporters are hoping he will be given a Cabinet post if Mr Cameron succeeds in ending 13 years of Labour rule.

New Forest West includes a large number of affluent villages, plus the towns of Lymington and Ringwood.

The New Forest owes its very existence to hunting. It was created 1,000 years ago to provide a royal larder for William the Conqueror, but the ban on hunting with dogs means the New Forest Hounds have been reduced to chasing an artificially laid scent.

Mr Cameron has pledged to allow MPs a free vote on hunting with dogs if the Conservatives win the election.

Other issues included the lack of affordable housing in the Forest, where sky-high property prices are preventing young people from remaining in the towns and villages where they grew up.

New Forest District Council says a serious shortage of land and money is making it impossible to provide enough social housing.

Last year the housing charity Shelter said it would take more than ten years to clear the waiting list, even if no new names were added.

Nine new properties due to be built on the Howards Mead estate in Pennington will be the first council houses to appear in the Forest for more than 20 years.

The £1.4m scheme has won widespread support but will make only a tiny dent in the housing shortage.

Other issues include plans to expand Bournemouth International Airport in a move that could result in more planes flying over villages such as Burley.