HE is the political leader who has defied the critics for two decades.

While countless other council chiefs have fallen by the wayside and his Liberal Democrat party’s popularity has nosedived, Keith House has remained unchallenged in his 20-year reign over Eastleigh Borough Council.

At election after election, Cllr House’s Lib Dems have strengthened their grip on Eastleigh, flying in the face of national opinion polls that show the party being left behind by the Conservatives, Labour and the UK Independence Party.

With a massive majority in the council chamber, Cllr House and his party inevitably have a tight grip on what happens in the borough.

But this week he has found himself caught up in a saga that could have come straight out of a political blockbuster.

Cllr House, 49, and fellow Cabinet members Louise Bloom, 50, and Tonia Craig, 43, have become embroiled in a love triangle, as the Daily Echo has reported, leading to accusations about the conduct of the senior figures in the administration.

It emerged that Cllr Bloom, who has been Cllr House’s partner for 14 years until earlier this year, had not attended the past five Cabinet meetings in her role as boss of environment and sustainability amid claims that she was refusing to attend meetings where her love rival was present.

Cllr Craig was appointed to the Cabinet with responsibility for health and community safety in June and insisted her promotion came before any romantic attachment to Cllr House.

Daily Echo: Cllrs Keith House and Louise Bloom

Cllr Keith House and Cllr Louise Bloom

This is just the latest occasion that Cllr House has found himself in the political spotlight, being no stranger to controversy in his career, which has seen him rise to one of the highest paid councillors in Hampshire taking home around £70,000 of taxpayers’ money.

But who is the man behind the headlines and what is the secret of his longevity as a leader?

One clue has come this week as his colleagues have rallied around him, none willing to break ranks in a show of support for their beleaguered leader.

It showed he clearly commands loyalty from his party.

He himself has refused to make any comment about the love triangle involving three politicians whose roles are paid out of the public purse.

Cllr House is an avid user of social media, particularly Twitter, describing himself on the site as an indie music fan and a green internationalist.

Daily Echo:

Cllr Tonia Craig

His Facebook page is open to the public and one of the first things you come across are pictures of Cllr Craig and himself at Niagara Falls in November.

Among his favourite films listed are The Great Gatsby, Once Upon a Time in America, Star Trek and Road to Perdition.

Favourite television shows include Star Trek and Yes, Prime Minister while favourite bands include The Beatles, Radiohead, Muse and Depeche Mode.

Those that have worked closely with the father-of-four and grandfather describe a man driven and dedicated to Eastleigh with a relentless enthusiasm for politics.

But his political opponents in the council chamber criticise his leadership style describing it as at times “presidential”.

Former councillor of 20 years until 2003 Martin Kyrle, who worked under Cllr House as leader for ten years, said Cllr House listened and there was always discussion among councillors.

He argued the low level of turnover was proof of councillors’ satisfaction with the way he ran the party.

“He has to argue his case, he’s got to convince the others – when I was there you argued your case.

“He often got his way because he’d researched his case first.

“I think [what motivates him] I would say that he thinks he’s made a difference in the way that the borough is managed and provides a good service.”

Asked about the leader’s longevity he said: “It’s dedication, it’s his life.

“It’s hard work and often without much reward.

“He expects people to be loyal to him as anybody would.”

Philip Spearey, a Liberal Democrat councillor for 30 years, remembers first meeting Cllr House as a 15-year- old keen to help the Liberal Democrat cause as a foot soldier knocking on doors and handing out leaflets.

With no family background in politics, Mr Spearey said Cllr House’s interest in politics “increased and became his life”.

“He’s hard working, he’s determined, he’s capable and he’s dedicated,” said Mr Spearey.

“I thought he would slow down as he got older but he hasn’t.

“He’s still as capable, intelligent and keen to achieve for Eastleigh as he always was.

“He’s just a natural leader. He is the leader and a respected leader, but he will take advice from people.”

He said that Cllr House was behind the scenes “relaxed and friendly”.

“He’s very laid back – as the leader he expects to get criticism,” he added.

That criticism has included thorny issues such as the huge rise in his allowances voted through in 1999 amid cuts to services, a High Court showdown with allotment holders whose plots were being sold for housing and the Ageas Bowl hotel saga.

Daily Echo:

Cllr House presided over the decision to invest public funds into a hotel build at the Ageas Bowl

The council has promised to buy on completion for £27.4m but work on the 171-bed facility was halted for six months after contractors Denizen went into administration and the project is now due to open in May next year, a year late.

The council has also bought the ground the hotel sits on for £1.1m and the lease of the 167-acre site for £6.5m in 2011, leading to accusations of misusing public funds.

Despite the controversies, Cllr House remains very much in charge.

The former Labour leader Pete Luffman, who served as an Eastleigh ward councillor for 20 years, described Cllr House as a “dominant leader”.

He said he got the impression having spoken to some ex- Liberal Democrat councillors that Cllr House pushed forward his own policies and would not let fellow councillors deviate from that and that this had prompted clashes.

“What he says goes on virtually all aspects of council policy and direction,” he said.

“There is no doubt he’s got his political group under control. He keeps his party on a short lead.”

Conservative opposition leader Godfrey Olson describes him as a “strong political leader”.

“He likes to achieve his political ambitions,” he said.

“It appears to me he likes to get his own way.”

He added it appeared to him that Cllr House’s leadership style was presidential.

“One of the criticisms I would have is that in the council chamber and this is where we see them operating, not many members participate in debates – it all seems to be revolving around or revolves around the Cabinet and Keith House.

“I don’t know what goes on in group meetings but what he says seems to go.”

Cllr House, who was born in West End, but grew up in Hedge End from the age of seven, displayed political credentials early on, first coming to prominence in the Daily Echo as an 18-year-old micro computer salesman leading an Eastleigh Campaign for Fair Votes campaign in 1983, a petition supporting a change in the electoral system.

Five years on the former Shamblehurst and Wildern School pupil was elected on to Hedge End Parish Council – a role he still holds today.

Three years later, at 25 years old, Cllr House was appointed chairman of the parish council, but in the same year was also elected as an Eastleigh borough councillor for the Hedge End Wildern ward.

He became the new leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1992, leading the opposition to the ruling Conservatives.

Two years later he took charge of the council.

He became a Hampshire county councillor for Bursledon, Hamble and Netley in 2001 and today leads the opposition to the Conservatives on that authority.

Alongside his local duties, Cllr House serves on the board of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), a public body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government and is also on the Partnership of Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) joint committee.

Cllr House was considered as a candidate for the 1994 Eastleigh by-election following the death of Stephen Milligan and, though shortlisted, was beaten in the nomination race by David Chidgey who went on to win the parliamentary seat and retain it until 2005.