Tories take control of three West councils as voters reject AV system in referendum
The Conservative Party has swept to power at councils across the Westcountry as the Liberal Democrats bore the brunt of anti-Government protest votes.
In a bruising day, the Lib Dems failed to make gains in all 14 unitary, city and district councils that went to the polls, losing a total of 35 councillors throughout the region.
Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, admitted the party had taken "big knocks" in its worst performance in decades nationally.
By contrast, their Tory partners in Westminster gained 35 seats in the region, most significantly through taking overall control of Lib Dem-led Teignbridge District Council in Devon with a huge swing.
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The Conservatives also gained full control of West Devon and Mid Devon. For decades, all three councils have either been coalitions or Lib Dem-run.
In a further blow to the Lib Dems, the country voted emphatically "No" in the referendum on introducing the alternative vote system to elect MPs.
Voters in the Isles of Scilly, the first to declare in the UK, and West Devon voted against the reform.
A renewed Labour Party, which picked up 15 councillors in the region, failed to knock the unitary Plymouth City Council from the Tories' grasp but extended its lead on Exeter City Council. Meanwhile, Conservative candidate Gordon Oliver was elected mayor of Torbay.
The results in the region were a surprise to many as the expectation was that the coalition Government parties, which go head-to-head across the Westcountry, would suffer equally.
As to why the Lib Dems were being punished and the Tories were not, Lib Dem MP for Taunton and Government Minister Jeremy Browne said: "Some people have come to the Lib Dems as a vehicle for opposition and protest. Because we have been in opposition for decades, that has become an established voting pattern in the minds of some people.
"Even when the Conservatives are in opposition for an extended period of time they don't quite appear to be an opposition party – they appear to represent the establishment."
The Lib Dems suffered heavy losses across the north of England, Scotland and Wales, losing half their councillors.
Mr Clegg, increasingly a target of the electorate's ire, admitted his party was taking the brunt of the blame for deep spending cuts and controversial decisions such as the rise in university tuition fees.
"We need to get up, dust ourselves down and move on," he said. In Teignbridge, ousted Lib Dem leader Alan Connett said he felt "empty".
Local councils in the South West are considered to be the Lib Dem's power base, the foundations on which its steady rise to power has been built. But yesterday's drubbing compounds the misery of two years ago when the Lib Dems lost control of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset county councils.
As its stands, the Lib Dems only control the tiny South Somerset district in the entire Westcountry, and with a majority reduced by six seats.
The Tories held Torbay, East Devon, South Hams, West Somerset and West Dorset. They are the largest party in North Devon, Torridge and Taunton Deane, but will have to forge a coalition as they have no overall control.
Mel Stride, Tory MP for Mid Devon, whose constituency covers the district council areas of Mid Devon, West Devon and Teignbridge, said: "I believe these results indicate how the public in the county, and up and down the country, support the tough steps the coalition is making in putting the UK back on a secure economic footing following the appalling legacy of the previous government."
Labour has made a big play of standing candidates throughout the South West, an area where it barely registers outside the cities.
It gained its first councillors in rural parts of Devon for many years, including one each in Torridge, South Hams and Torbay. It will also look to take control of Plymouth and Torbay at the next round of local elections.
Labour's Exeter MP, Ben Bradshaw, said: "Exeter shows yet again how Labour can win in the south of England."
Unitary and district council election results
PLYMOUTH - CONSERVATIVE HOLD
Labour has gained five seats on Plymouth City Council – but failed to oust the Conservatives.
The Tories, who took control in 2007, now have 32 seats and Labour have 25. There are no other political parties on the council.
Labour gained four seats from the Conservatives and one from an Independent councillor. Only one-third of seats were contested.
Conservative group leader Vivien Pengelly said: “It’s always extremely difficult when you have your own party in government that has had to make such difficult
On Twitter, Tudor Evans, leader of the Plymouth Labour group, said the party was
“exactly where we want to be for taking control next year.”
EXETER - NO OVERALL CONTROL
The Labour Party failed to take full control of Exeter City Council. Labour gained four seats, consolidating its status as the largest party. It now has 19 councillors – two seats short of a majority.
Only 13 – or around one-third – of council seats were up for grabs, meaning Labour would always struggle to take full advantage of anti-coalition Government protest votes.
The Conservatives are now the second biggest party on the council. The party has 11 councillors, no change since the local election last year.
The Liberal Democrats lost two seats, meaning it is now the third largest party with nine councillors.
Labour’s Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said: “Exeter shows yet again how Labour can win in the south of England.”
TORBAY - CONSERVATIVE HOLD
The Conservatives held on to power with a commanding lead in Torbay, despite losing ground. The result was delayed and one of the last to be declared after counting was postponed until 11am.
The returning officer said many counting staff were tired after a “long day” and the delay was to ensure a safe and accurate decision.
The Tories lost one seat, dropping from 23 to 22, while their Westminster coalition partners, the Lib Dems, also dipped – from ten to nine.
Labour gained one seat, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) took one seat and independents won three.
The mayoral election was won by new Tory group leader Gordon Oliver.
The authority has remained in Tory control after alternating with the Lib Dems since 1997.
EAST DEVON - CONSERVATIVE HOLD
The Conservatives were left stunned with the defeat of their leader on East Devon District Council.
The shock result came despite the Tories extending their lead to 43 seats to keep the party in control.
The defeat of Sara Randall Johnson at the hands of an Independent ends her reign of more than 20 years as a councillor for Ottery St Mary Rural.
She lost against Claire Wright, who polled 1,364 votes against Miss Randall Johnson’s 797.
Ms Wright said she believed her campaigning with the action group Community Before Developers and the bid to retain maternity care at Honiton swayed the voters.
The Lib Dems maintained their 10 seats, with the independent tally dropping one to six.
MID DEVON - CONSERVATIVE GAIN
The national picture was repeated in Mid Devon with the Conservatives gaining ground at the expense of their opponents.
The Tories went from being the majority party to taking overall control at Mid Devon District Council. The group extended its lead at the expense of coalition partners the Liberal Democrats, moving into a commanding position.
Both the Liberal Democrats and Independents lost ground to the Tories, a situation repeated around the country.
The Conservatives moved from 20 to 24 seats with the Lib Dems dropping two seats from eight to six and Independents also losing ground, with their share falling from 14 to 10.
The authority has been under Tory or Independent control since 1995, apart from a blip in 1995 when the Lib Dems won power.
TEIGNBRIDGE - CONSERVATIVE GAIN
A Westcountry battleground which has seen heavyweight visits from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Chancellor George Osborne this year has been decisively won by the Conservatives.
Lib Dem support crumbled in Teignbridge with the Tories snatching power after a big swing in support.
Teignbridge District Council, the only authority led by the Lib Dems in Devon and Cornwall, was painted blue with the Tories taking 26 of 46 seats, a gain of eight, while the Lib Dems lost seven.
Ousted Liberal Democrat leader Alan Connett said he felt “empty”, but was proud of what his party had achieved during its eight years in control as part of a coalition.
Tory group leader Jeremy Christophers said: “We will find a bar and celebrate with a pint of real ale.”
SOUTH HAMS - CONSERVATIVE HOLD
One of the safest Tory councils on the Westcountry map remained blue, with the ruling Conservative group extending its electoral advantage thanks to dwindling Liberal Democrat support.
The party held on to control of South Hams District Council with a massive three-quarters of the 40 available seats.
The Conservatives won three additional seats at the expense of their coalition partners, the Lib-Dems, who lost four seats.
The Green party increased their share from one to three seats and Labour gained one seat.
The Tory stronghold has been held by the party for four consecutive elections and has only ever been held by the Conservatives or Independents since 1966. Since 2007, the Tory share has gone from 27 to 30, The Lib Dems from 9 to 5, with Independents dropping two, from 3 to 1.
NORTH DEVON - NO OVERALL CONTROL
Party politics was rejected by voters in North Devon with a major swing towards the independents.
North Devon District Council bucked the Westcountry trend and became one of the few areas where the Conservatives lost ground to their opponents. The Tories remained the majority party, though the authority remained under no overall control after both Westminster coalition partners lost seats.
The ruling group lost four seats, dropping from 22 to 18, and with it control of a council it won for the first time in 2007 after wresting power from the Liberal Democrats who won four successive victories. The Lib Dems lost three seats, dropping from 17 to 14, and independents added three to their existing eight, making 11. Turnout was 45.33 per cent.
TORRIDGE - NO OVERALL CONTROL
The Conservatives remain the largest party on Torridge District Council in North Devon, but could not do enough to take overall control. No single party has held the council since its foundation in 1973.
The Conservatives now boast 18 of 36 seats, an increase of one, but one short of avoiding coalition. The Lib Dems also saw their share of the councillors increase by one, giving the party six seats.
Labour gained their first councillor in rural Devon, and its first seat on the council in eight years. Labour’s David Brenton won the Bideford South seat, ousting the town’s mayor, Conservative Philip Pester.
Labour has increased the number of candidates it put forward in the South West in an attempt to sweep up disaffected Lib Dems.
WEST DEVON - CONSERVATIVE GAIN
The Conservatives took overall control of West Devon District Council with a huge 23 per cent swing in support from the other two main parties in the election.
The group went from being the majority party to taking overall control, snatching seven seats from their opponents in the process.
The make-up of the authority at the last election in 2007 saw the Tories hold 12 out of
31 seats, but yesterday they moved up to 19, leaving the opposition parties with just 12.
The gain came principally at the expense of coalition partners the Lib Dems, who lost five seats, with others dropping two seats from 11 to 9.
The authority has been under Tory or Independent control since 1966, except for 1995, when the Lib Dems won power.
TAUNTON DEANE - NO OVERALL CONTROL
One of the region’s more finely balanced councils remained under no overall control despite a swing between the two Westminster coalition partners.
The Conservatives put clear blue water between themselves and the Liberal Democrats at Taunton Deane but failed to take control.
The Tories moved from 26 to 28 seats, with the Lib Dems dropping two from 25 to 23 and Labour adding two seats to make the total three and others dropping two seats.
The authority, which has not been won outright since 1995, saw a turnout of 47 per cent.
SOUTH SOMERSET - LIB DEM HOLD
The Liberal Democrats narrowly clung on to power in South Somerset, despite losing ground to the Conservatives with a huge swing.
The result left the authority the only Lib Dem-controlled area in the South West, though the lead over the Tories shrunk hugely from 20 seats to just six.
Council leader Tim Carroll said he had “always believed we could hang on”, but admitted the party had been punished for the coalition’s policies.
The Lib Dems dropped from 37 to 31 seats with the Tories climbing from 17 to 25.
WEST SOMERSET - CONSERVATIVE GAIN
The Liberal Democrats have witnessed wipe-out on West Somerset District Council as the Conservatives took overall control.
The Tories gained six seats, giving the party 19 councillors in total. Conservatives previously ran the council in coalition with Independents, who lost nine seats.
Independents now represent the second largest grouping on the council with seven councillors.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems lost their only member on the rural authority and Labour now boast two councillors – up one.
WEST DORSET - CONSERVATIVE HOLD
The Conservatives consolidated their pole position on West Dorset District Council by taking four more seats.
The Tories are now comfortably the largest party with 32 councillors, a 21-seat lead over the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems leaked seats, losing three councillors.
As a result of the overnight count, West Dorset was one of the first councils to declare.
While the Lib Dems claimed that many of their losses were to Labour in the north, West Dorset was one of the first indicators that the party might shed vote share to the Tories in the south as well.