Liberal Democrats have delivered a hammer blow to Cheltenham’s Conservative Party ousting the leader of the Tories from the borough council in dramatic fashion.
Max Wilkinson won the Park ward for the Lib Dems after a tense recount which saw Rob Garnham, a councillor who has represented the area for 18 years, kicked off the council.
It was the only seat gained by the yellow party but the boisterous whooping which greeted the victory announcement was a good indicator of just how big a scalp the Lib Dems felt they had taken.
The Tories managed to gain one seat on the day, with Chris Nelson winning in a fiercely fought contest in Leckhampton.
And despite the Lib Dems and Tories finishing the day as they started it, with 13 seats and four seats respectively, the loss of Mr Garnham clearly stung the blue party.
Nineteen of the borough council’s 40 seats were up for grabs at yesterday’s election.
As it stands the Liberal Democrats hold 24 seats and remain in overall control of the authority while the Conservatives have 12.
Mr Garnham offered a simple response to his defeat.
“It’s politics and it is democracy,” he said.
“I am proud of the campaign I ran, the hard work that I and the rest of the Conservatives put in to support me and of the integrity of my campaign.
“We have held the number of councillors we had on Cheltenham Borough Council.
“It is the end of 18 years as the councillor for Park ward.”
Mr Garnham believes he was the victim of a Liberal Democrat party which had decided to specifically target his seat – a claim the Lib Dems have denied.
“From day one the Liberal Democrats were targeting me and wanted me out,” he said.
“The Liberal Democrats piled in people from everywhere to take me out.
“The Liberal Democrats went after me because we are causing them so much hassle.”
The Echo asked Mr Garnham if he intends to stand for election again.
He said: “It is too early to say if I will come back.
“I will come to terms with this but I am no longer a borough councillor.”
Mr Wilkinson secured a majority of 56 votes.
He won 1,026 votes to Mr Garnham’s 970.
When Mr Garnham won the seat in 2010 he had a majority of more than 300 votes.
Mr Wilkinson attributed his victory to hard work on the doorstep, but played down its overall significance.
He said: “I wouldn’t call it stunning but winning did seem unlikely when I started the campaign.
“It shows that if the Liberal Democrats get out there and talk to people and engage with their concerns then they can really take their message out there and be successful.
“The Lib Dems do not win in Park very often so on that level it is significant.”
He added: “But the important thing is that the people of Cheltenham realise that Liberal Democrats are doing a good job.”
Mr Wilkinson told the Echo he believes it is getting out and about to actually talk to people that matters most to voters.
He said: “This is not necessarily about the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives winning.
“It is about making sure you are doing the things that people want to make Park a better place.”