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Election 2014: Cheltenham Liberal Democrats buck national trend, hold seats and make gain

By jrmaidment  |  Posted: May 23, 2014

Jubilant Liberal Democrats celebrate after finding out they had stolen Park ward from the leader of the Conservatives Rob Garnham

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Liberal Democrats in Cheltenham were ecstatic after bucking the national trend of the party haemorrhaging seats at the local elections.

The yellow party not only managed to hold onto all of the seats it was defending on the borough council, but also gained one crucial seat from the Conservatives, ousting the Tory leader Rob Garnham.

The Liberal Democrats finished with 13 seats while the Tories ended the day as they started on four seats after gaining Leckhampton.

With just less than half of the borough council’s 40 seats up for grabs the makeup of the council remains relatively unchanged.

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The Liberal Democrats single gain leaves them with 24 total seats while the Tories loss of one seat and gain of another leaves them on 12.

Meanwhile the People Against Bureaucracy group successfully defended the two seats it was fighting, Pittville and Prestbury, which means PAB remains on four seats.

A gleeful Martin Horwood, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, described his party’s victory in the Park ward as “the icing on the cake” of a strong showing.

He said: “It has been a fantastic day for Cheltenham Liberal Democrats.

“The icing on the cake was Max Wilkinson who has worked very hard taking the Conservative leader’s seat in Park ward.

“Taking 13 seats out of 19 is a tremendous vote of confidence in Steve Jordan and his team of councillors but also in the Liberal Democrat’s vision for Cheltenham.

“This shows that Cheltenham is quite special and that we don’t necessarily follow the national trend.

“This is a very encouraging platform to go forward from for the next general election.”

The Lib Dem candidate Max Wilkinson secured Park ward after a tense recount.

He won the seat with a majority of just 56, ending Rob Garnham’s 18 year tenure as councillor for the ward and leaving the Tories without a leader.

Steve Jordan, the Lib Dem leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, said it had been a “very pleasing” result for his party.

“There has been a lot of hard work that has gone into this,” he said.

“The feedback that we get at the council is that people are pretty pleased with what we are doing.

“Clearly the Conservatives were not expecting to lose the Park seat and losing their leader will make a difference to them. Max has done a really good job.”

Ukip, a party which surged nationally winning seats across the country, failed to secure one in Cheltenham.

However, the party did finish second in a number of wards and the Tories blamed them for failing to make more inroads in Lib Dem held seats.

Alex Chalk, the Conservative MP hopeful for Cheltenham, said: “Of course it was a disappointing result in Park because Rob Garnham has been an absolutely fantastic servant of this town.

“It is disappointing to lose him but this was overall a pretty positive result for us.

“We made a decisive gain on Leckhampton and if it hadn’t been for the Ukip effect we would have made gains against the Lib Dems.”

The lone bright spot for the Tories was Chris Nelson gaining the Leckhampton ward, defeating the sitting independent councillor.

Mr Nelson told the Echo: “I am humbled and feel privileged and a bit emotional.

“I knew it would be a difficult competition with five of us running in Leckhampton.

“It was probably the most competitive ward in Cheltenham.”

Mr Nelson attributed his victory in Leckhampton to the strength of feeling against a council housing blueprint which would see hundreds of homes built on the area’s green fields.

Turnout at the Cheltenham Borough Council election was 37.6%.

Twenty seats were due to be contested today but the sad death of a candidate in Charlton Park ward means that election was postponed.

A by-election will be held on July 3.

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