Published: 06:00, 23 May 2014 |
Updated: 15:43, 23 May 2014
The Conservatives have lost overall control of Maidstone Borough Council after a surge by UKIP.
Twenty seats were being contested in 18 wards in the borough elections yesterday.
When all the votes were counted at Maidstone Leisure Centre this morning, UKIP had taken four seats - all from the Conservatives - and also came second behind the Lib Dems in several wards, beating the Tories down into third place.
The Lib Dems also gained a seat from the Conservatives in Heath Ward, where prominent local activist James Willis was elected, but they lost a seat to Labour's Paul Harper in Fant Ward.
Veteran Lib Dem councillor and retiring Mayor Clive English barely held on to his seat in High Street ward, winning by just 33 votes over UKIP's Jackie Hemsted.
Shepway South was the first result of the night to be declared - at 2.55am - with Dave Sargeant becoming the first ever Ukip member to be elected to Maidstone council.
He said: "I'm very proud to have been given this trust and to be the very first UKIP councillor. Hopefully the first of many. I shall do my very best to do what's right for my ward and for the wider borough."
His success was followed by UKIP's Christine Edwards-Daem in Park Wood, by Eddie Powell in Harrietsham and Lenham, and by Simon Ells in Shepway North.
The independents who started the night with five councillors ended the evening still with five, after Janetta Sams replaced her husband Tom Sams in the second seat in Harrietsham and Lenham.
The final result means that of the 55 seats, the Tories have 25, Lib Dems 19, Independents 5, Ukip four and Labour two.
Ironically, this does not mean there will be an immediate change to the administration.
The Tory leader Chris Garland had been elected as council leader for a four-year term and it still has two years to run. Unless he chooses to resign, he is entitled to carry on as council leader, unless the opposition parties call for and win a vote of no confidence.
Lib Dem party leader Cllr Fran Wilson this morning would not commit her party to that course.
She said: "We are meeting on Tuesday to decide the best way forward. It would be possible for the Conservatives to run the council as a minority administration."
Cllr Garland admitted: "The evening has been a disappointing one for us."
He said his group would have to see if it could find a workable partnership with some of the other groups. He said it might be possible to work with the Lib Dems, with the Independents or with Labour. He noticeably did not mention working with UKIP.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he was "delighted" that his party had taken its "first step on the rung" in Madistone.
He told the BBC: "We let our councillors get on, work and co-operate with other parties to try to do the best they can for local residents.
"That formula has worked well in other parts of the country, it's certainly working well on Kent County Council, and I would expect Maidstone to be much the same."
Cllr Garland put UKIP's success down to the timing of the local elections with the Euro elections and to immigration, but Peter Edwards-Daem - the UKIP chairman for the party's Faversham and Mid-Kent branch - had a different view.
Mr Edwards-Daem said: "The Conservatives have stopped listening to the voters and eventually when you stop listening, they will stop voting for you."
He said UKIP's success was due to its local policies such as not building on greenfield land and imposing 20mph speed limits through the villages.
The average turnout across the 18 wards was 39.2%.
Candidates had a long wait to hear the results. Even though the Euro election ballots are not being counted until Sunday, the tellers first had to empty all the Euro ballot boxes and check that the numbers tallied with the number of ballot papers issued, before turning their attention to the borough council election.
The polls closed at 10pm on Thursday and the St Simon Stock polling station tellers in Bridge Ward were the first to race their ballot boxes to Maidstone Leisure Centre, arriving at 10.09, but counting did not even begin until 2pm.
Conservative cabinet member Cllr John Wilson was not himself standing for re-election, but he had grown his traditional "lucky beard" in support of his colleagues.
Unfortunately for the Tories, this time his lucky beard didn't seem to work. He said: "It's coming off tomorrow."
Results are also being declared in Tunbridge Wells, which has a third of its seats up for grabs, this afternoon.
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