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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Flook victory bucks West trend
adrian flook
Adrian Flook ousted the Lib Dems in Taunton
Paul Cannon, the BBC West's political editor, says the Tories were thwarted in their heartland - with one freak exception.

Perhaps never before has a new MP been so aptly named.

Conservative Adrian Flook reclaimed Taunton from the Liberal Democrats.

Set in the context of the Tory result everywhere else in the West, his win does seem something of a fluke.

It was the only seat that changed hands in the entire region.

jackie ballard
Jackie Ballard was defeated in Taunton
The casualty was the high profile and locally popular Jackie Ballard.

She blames the loss on a concerted campaign in Taunton and - more particularly in its surrounding rural areas - by the Countryside Alliance.

Ms Ballard was an outspoken critic of hunting, calling loudly and frequently for an outright ban.

Adrian Flook took the seat by a margin of a little over 200 votes after a recount.

Hunting critic

He was as surprised as he was delighted. "My ambition to represent my own home area in Westminster goes back twenty five years," he said.

There were also recounts in Somerton & Frome and Weston-super-Mare.

hunt riders
The hunt vote was key at Taunton
But there the Liberal Democrats, David Heath and Brian Cotter, hung on, dashing Tory hopes of even a hint of a revival in the West of England, once their heartland.

This was the underlying story of the night in the West of England.

The Conservatives lost ten seats here in 1997.

They knew they would have to reclaim at least half of them before any sort of celebration could begin.

Tories confounded

In count after count, their prime targets eluded them.

Bristol West remained Labour with an increased majority for Valerie Davey.

David Heath
Lib Dem David Heath retained marginal Weston-super-Mare
It was the same story in Stroud for David Drew, confounding Tory hopes of finding strength against Labour in rural seats.

Another target was Northavon, seat of the Lib Dem's Social Security spokesman, Steve Webb.

He not only saw off the Conservative challenge - he added considerably to his majority too.

West Country Tories take comfort from regaining Taunton and holding off Lib Dem challenges in Bridgwater and Wells, but it's cold comfort.

Their regional showing at Westminster remains in single figures.

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