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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK

The battle for Monmouth

Newsonline records the events of election night at one of Wales's most keenly contested seats.

The battle for Monmouth proved to be every bit as nail-biting as its billing.

Face-to-face for the fourth time, Huw Edwards was defending his seat against Tory challenger Roger Evans, who forced two recounts before conceding defeat.

Aptly enough a victorious Mr Edwards - renowned for his enthusiastic participation in the House of Commons football team - borrowed a sporting analogy to describe his relief.

"It's the best hat-trick I've ever scored," he said.

He was referring to his roller-coaster relationship with the prosperous constituency, which had long been a Tory strong.

He first took control from his old adversary Mr Evans during a by-election in 1991.

He held onto it only until the general election of 1992 when it was volleyed back to Mr Evans.

Then in 1997 it was all change again when it came back under Mr Edwards' control and from that point on it was touch and go whether or not he could hold onto it for a second term.

His pleasure at having done so was palpable as Mr Edwards left the stage giving high-fives to campaigners.

The highly charged finale was a far cry from the relaxed atmosphere of the start of the evening in Monmouthshire County Hall, Cwmbran.

The first suggestion of how closely the contest would be run became clear as Mr Evans swept into the building at midnight looking tense and business-like.

" On the day the Labour party was universally triumphant, Mr Edwards squeaked into this constituency "
Conservative candidate Roger Evans

As the count continued, he quickly ordered a meeting with party campaigners to discuss information gathered from various wards.

Officials had hoped to declare the seat at 0230BST but it was not long before they realised how hopelessly optimistic they had been.

At 0300BST it was announced that no decision had been reached and that both candidates had agreed to a recount.

One Labour supporter peered over the balcony trying to read the final tally shown below on a clipboard of the returning officer.

Audible groans

But his efforts were in vain as seconds later the candidates were being rallied around the returning officer's table once again.

There were audible groans as a second recount were announced.

Some of the counters had by now begun to look very tired and several had gathered outside for a cigarette to contemplate the unwelcome task of sifting through ballot papers once more.

There was confusion and argument over postal votes as it had been announced that between 40 and 100 postal votes in one constituency had not received their papers.

Some, it seemed, had been allowed to vote at polling stations while others were refused permission.

"It has been an extremely difficult and tense evening," said Mr Edwards, "but it has been a tremendous event.

"The margin of victory is entirely due to hard work of our party campaigners."

Mr Evans, however, was not in such a magnanimous mood.

"We are bitterly disappointed by the result," he said.

"On the day the Labour party was universally triumphant, Mr Edwards squeaked into this constituency."

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