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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Small quake in Devon: not many Tory votes
Teignbridge result
Lib Dems cheered as Patrick Nicholls lost Teignbridge
The earth fails to move for BBC South West political editor Chris Rogers, although Liberal Democrats are rejoicing.

Nine days before the general election, a small earthquake hit the South West, though most people did not feel anything and there was not much damage.

A similar thing happened at the count, as the election results came in.

The political map of the South West remains very much as before, though with some significant isolated changes.

Jim Knight
Jim Knight snatched Dorset South for Labour
A seismic smile, then, on the face of the Labour Party in south Dorset.

This was Labour's top Tory target in the country, where Conservative Ian Bruce was hanging on by the slenderest of threads, a 77-vote majority.

It was the only constituency in the South West that Tony Blair visited in the campaign.

Perhaps it was enough to snap the thread and allow Jim Knight to turn the seat into a 153-vote Labour marginal.

Lib Dem joy

Similarly in Taunton, Jackie Ballard won for the Liberal Democrats in 1997.

But Tory campaigning in this strong hunting and farming country hit the anti-hunting Lib Dem and gave the seat back to the Conservatives by 226 votes.

That was the only real Lib Dem disappointment of the evening.

Christian Sweeting and Adrian Sanders
Christian Sweeting failed to overturn Adrian Sanders' 12-vote majority
Of course they regret not being able to capitalise on West Dorset Tory Oliver Letwin's little campaign difficulty as one of the "disappeared'.

Letwin held on.

But elsewhere, in Devon, there was Lib Dem joy.

Torbay had been the Tories' top target in the country. The Lib Dem Adrian Sanders defended the slimmest of majorities - 12 votes.

His reputation as a constituency MP trounced the Tory candidate's Eurosceptic campaign and Sanders was flabbergasted to get back with an easily-remembered majority of 6,708.

Damp squib

Similar rejoicing next door in Teignbridge, which was the Lib Dem's national top target seat.

Eurosceptic Tory Patrick Nicholls was defending a 281 majority.

Richard Younger-Ross turned that into a 3,011-vote win for the Lib Dems.

The biggest damp squib of the night was the overblown expectation of the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party.

UKIP stood in 19 of the 20 South West seats and said it could win two.

Tory candidates were heard desperately imploring Eurosceptics not to vote UKIP in case it let in the Lib Dem.

Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin held Dorset West
The party leader finally admitted on BBC South West that they were standing so many to maximise their national vote.

By pushing it past the 5% mark, they could qualify for increased campaign spending, come the Euro referendum.

The voters failed them. Only three UKIP deposits of 19 were saved. Their influence on any Tory vote is questionable.

However, the South West has provided perhaps the only bright spot in the dismal story of national turnout.

Reassuring ripple

Yes, it was down. But not as far as the national average of 59%, or the scary democratic deficit evident in the 34% in Liverpool.

The South West has always been more conscientious than the nation at large.

The average here of 66%, while historically low, may turn out to be the most reassuring ripple of 2001's little rumble in the political jungle.


Related stories:

15 May 01 |  Vote2001
Thatcherite Letwin goes to ground

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