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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Teather's rapturous welcome

By Ben Davies
BBC News Online political staff in Brighton

Sarah Teather is in a state of shock.

Not only has she won the very safe Labour seat of Brent East in a by-election but since that night, under a week ago, her feet have barely touched the ground - she says it's been a "whirlwind".

As it is Liberal Democrat conference week and she is the hero of the hour, everyone wants a piece of her.

We talk the night before yet another ordeal - her first big speech to delegates down here in Brighton.

Predictably her welcome is rapturous with delegates waving banners handed to them by party workers proclaiming 'Lib Dems winning here'.

On stage her performance is assured. Dressed in a red suit she delivered her speech with the barest minimum of notes.

And she went down a storm, earning a lengthy standing ovation.

Just a few hours earlier, when we met to talk, she arrived half an hour late simply because she is stopped everywhere she goes and congratulated for becoming the Liberal Democrat's 54th MP, or for being the youngest in the Commons, or for being a woman representative.

Life will now change massively for her. She has quit her job with Macmillan Cancer Relief, resigned as an Islington councillor and is preparing to move house into her new constituency.

But there is no sense of her being able to sit back and enjoy her moment of triumph. She is already focusing on the next two years and retaining her seat at the general election.

Shock

As for her victory on Thursday night she says she had prevented herself from thinking she would win until the result was actually announced.

"I always knew I had a chance but still it came as a shock.

"I'd been very careful to steel myself away from being too positive about it in the last few days in particular although the team were really buoyed and they were saying 'I think we're going to do it'.

"I kind of shut down that part of my brain so on the night I was still numb when the result came through. It took me a few hours before I could engage with it and start to feel anything.

"You know that you're on show and you know that there's going to be cameras regardless of the result."

She is quick to point out that the result was not her victory alone but that of the people who helped her on the streets and of the Lib Dems as a whole which as a party put in a huge effort.

Livingstone's help?

During the battle for Brent East all the parties wheeled out their big guns, but it was perhaps less predictable that the Labour candidate would get such a ringing endorsement from Ken Livingstone.

Did the intervention of her predecessor as MP actually help the Lib Dem cause?

"I don't know whether it helped or not.

"What I do think is that the fact he backed the Labour candidate was a rejection not just of Labour but also of him and he must be very worried about the London mayoral contest next year."

In just three weeks time Ms Teather will be joining her colleagues on the benches of the Commons.

Slog

Her maiden speech is not something she's had time think about; nor has she thought about the substantial salary she will now enjoy.

Beyond finding a permanent constituency office and spending some time "reflecting" about her Commons debut the Cambridge graduate doesn't really have any plans.

"My first priority is to be the local MP for Brent East, and that is what's going to consume me certainly for the next two years and then I will reflect further.

"It's going to be a hard slog, I'm quite well aware of that but I'm ready for it."

She gives the examples of Sandra Gidley and Simon Hughes retaining their seats after by-elections.

"I think I can do it but I've no illusions that it's not going to be extremely hard work, but I'm a very hard worker," she adds with a self-deprecating giggle.





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