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The BBC's Carolyn Quinn in Romsey
"This most Conservative of consituencies"
 real 28k

Sandra Gidley, Liberal Democrat
"Issues that really matter to people"
 real 28k

Timothy Palmer, Conservative
"It is a Conservative seat and to the Conservatives it shall return"
 real 28k

Charles Kennedy MP, Liberal Democrat leader
"It blows apart the credibility of the William Hague Conservative Party"
 real 28k

Friday, 5 May, 2000, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Romsey defeat mars Tories' night

Sandra Gidley: Major victory over Tories
The Liberal Democrats have dramatically seized the safe seat of Romsey in Hampshire from the Conservatives in a parliamentary by-election.

Sandra Gidley polled 19,571 votes - a majority of 3,311 over the Tory candidate, Timothy Palmer who had inherited a seat with a majority of 8,500 at the 1997 general election.

She said the result showed that the people of Romsey had spoken for Britain - they had neither "forgotten nor forgiven" the Conservatives but Labour still had to deliver on its promises.

Romsey Result
Sandra Gidley (LD): 19,571
Timothy Palmer (Con): 16,260
Andrew Howard (Lab): 1,451
Garry Rankin-Moore (UKIP): 901
Derrick Large (LCA) 417
Thomas Lamont (Ind) 109
LD majority: 3,311
The result blighted a night of victories for the Tories in local council elections across England as it gained control of 16 more authorities.

In a further twist, Labour candidate Andrew Howard lost his deposit after his vote collapsed to only 1,451, indicating that many of his supporters had switched to the Liberal Democrat camp.

The loss of the seat - the Conservatives' 50th safest seat in the country - was a blow for Tory leader William Hague, who had visited the constituency several times to lend his support to his candidate.

Defiant in defeat, Mr Palmer told the Liberal Democrats that they would only have the seat "on loan".

The vacancy at Romsey was created by the death of veteran MP Michael Colvin who died, along with his wife, in a fire at his Hampshire mansion.

Lib Dem gains

Romsey is the latest in a set of by-election wins in southern England by the Liberal Democrats - Eastleigh, Christchurch, Newbury.

Tim Palmer
Timothy Palmer: "Seat loanedto Lib Dems"
But they came while the Tories were in government and were seen as rebellions by Conservative voters disgruntled at an unpopular government.

This time the Tories are in opposition and the defeat, by another opposition party, is a major embarrassment by a party which faces a general election next year.

The defeat soured a generally good night for the Tories, who won more than 500 council seats throughout England.

Mr Hague, referring to Tory successes in local elections compared to the Romsey defeat, said: "We have lost an election in which 35,000 people voted and we have made gains in one in which five million people voted."

But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "This is an absolutely sensational result for the Liberal Democrats.

"William Hague's leadership and his election strategy have been shattered.

"This is a fantastic launch pad for the general election."

During the Romsey campaign Mr Hague was criticised for his comments on asylum seekers.

'Misjudged the people'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy accused Mr Hague of being "immature, dangerous and indulging in irresponsible politics".

Mr Hague retaliated: "It is important to raise these issues. We are not a party which has been having electoral difficulty over the past year. We are the party that's been winning elections."

But in her victory speech, the new MP for Romsey said: "Mr Hague, I want to tell you that you have misjudged the people of this country and the people of Romsey.

"They know you have nothing to say and nothing to offer on hospitals, schools or pensioners, to what really matters to people in their lives.

"You have tried to deflect the attention from the real issues and people have rejected your approach and people across Britain will reject it at the next general election."

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See also:

22 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tory asylum policy warning
26 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Hague backs right to defend homes
05 May 00 | UK Politics
Romsey: What the result means
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