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Local elections 2018: Liberal Democrats take control of South Cambridgeshire from Conservatives

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South Cambridgeshire Councillor Bridget Smith Picture: Keith Heppell
South Cambridgeshire Councillor Bridget Smith Picture: Keith Heppell

The Liberal Democrats secured a massive win over the Conservatives by taking South Cambridgeshire and leader Bridget Smith says she is determined to put the “heart back into local politics”.

The district had been Tory-controlled and previously had spells under no overall control but the Lib Dems produced one of the most amazing victories in recent electoral history at local level.

Part of their resurgence included a victory for a father and son in Linton while one ward saw the Conservatives robbed of a hat-trick of councillors by just one vote.

Prior to the voting yesterday (Thursday), the Tories had a comfortable majority – holding 35 seats to the Lib Dems 14.

But when the votes were counted today (Friday) the Lib Dems overturned that majority by polling 30 seats while the Tories slumped to just 11.

A delighted Cllr Smith, who will become the new leader of the council, said: “I am just so thrilled. But people have worked so hard, they’ve worked tirelessly to get this result. We were optimistic, but you never know until the end.

“But we saw the way things were going nationally and we were aware quite early on today, that the national picture was looking really good.

“What this shows is that there is a need for liberal politics in this country. This is the start of a resurgence for the party.

“People wanted change in Cambridgeshire. We’ve had turgid, heartless local politics for the last four years and if I achieve nothing else in the next four years, it will be to put the heart back into local government. People matter more than anything else.

“We will be caring about everybody, we will not be riding roughshod over anyone. We’ve had four years of no local plan and some of our villages being destroyed planning permission for 5000 homes that nobody planned for. People have just had enough and want something different. I had a formidable bunch of candidates.”

For the outgoing leader of the council, Conservative Peter Topping, the defeat was difficult to take and said the party would need to reflect on where things had gone wrong.

Cllr Topping said: “We will be coming back. We need to do a bit of reflecting on it. Personally, I am disappointed. There were a number of factors, the local plan, which we are still waiting for, which is four years with the independent inspector which is a long time.

“In other parts of the country UKIP voters have been returning to the Conservatives, whereas in this part of the country, this is a ‘remain’ area so that factor doesn’t apply here. There is no quick conclusions on this.

“I’ve seen some young, hardworking Tory councillors, so we need to work with them because they are the next generation. Politics is politics, you don’t go into it if you cannot take the rough with the smooth. I had a good run, I’ve been a councillor for 10 years and just been re-elected with a large majority but it has not been a good day and there is no point in pretending otherwise.”

A big two-party battle in Linton has been won by the Lib Dem father and son duo, Henry and John Batchelor with a turnout at 43.31 per cent with young apprentice Henry beating his dad John by 54 votes.

Elsewhere victories in Duxford and Milton and Waterbeach for the Lib Dems were just part of the springboard to success across the region for the party.

But there were other stories where success and failure hinged on a small number of votes. In the case of Cambourne, one vote stopped the Tories from recording a hat-trick of councillors.

Cambourne is a new ward, having previously formed part of Bourn ward, which was held by the Tories. The Conservatives won two of the seats, with Labour taking the other by the narrowest possible margin – one vote.

Labour’s Gavin Clayton polled 800 votes while Tory Evelyne Spanner mustered a heart-breaking 799.

After the Twitter controversy involving George Stoakley, he was suspended from the Conservative party, but still appeared on the ballot paper. He picked up 810 votes but was not elected.

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View the full results from the South Cambridgeshire District Council election 2018.

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