THE Liberal Democrats have won the crucial Moss Bank by-election to retain control of St Helens Council on a night when the ill feeling between rival politicians rumbled on.
Dave Kent, from Carr Mill, won the seat left vacant in Moss Bank following the sudden death of Liberal Democrat councillor Anne Heyes in May.
The result was key to whether the Lib Dems and Tories power sharing rule of the local authority continued.
The state of play at the council sees the Lib Dems with 19 seats, Conservatives six and Labour 23.
The result reinforces the majority for the Lib Dem/Tory alliance. Had Labour won they could have regained control of the council.
However, Kent, an accountant, enjoyed a comprehensive victory – winning by a margin of 469 seats from second-placed Jeffrey Fletcher, the Labour candidate.
Result: Moss Bank by-election
- Dave Kent - Lib Dem (1480)
- Jeffrey Fletcher - Labour (1011)
- Madeleine Wilcock - Tory (111)
- David Rothwell - Green (73)
- Christopher Hackett - Independent (71)
Turn Out: 31.86per cent
The importance of the election was evident by the unprecedented levels of political propaganda being pushed through letterboxes of homes in the Moss Bank ward.
It has been played out to a backdrop of bitterness between the rival Lib Dems and Labour polticians fuelled by the Facebook row involving David Crowther and a series of hostile exchanges in full council between Marie Rimmer and council leader Brian Spencer.
That ill feeling was apparent last night as the joyous Lib Dems celebrated after scoring the crucial victory.
Despite the significance of yesterday’s poll, the St Helens Star was the only media organisation present at St Helens Town Hall last night as the result of the count came in.
Afterwards, newly installed Cllr Kent, 48, praised his campaign team and said he believed the fact he lived locally in the ward had helped him achieve success.
He said the vote reflected the “hard work the Lib Dems do in Moss Bank” and pledged to carry on the efforts of Anne Heyes.
The result kept Brian Spencer in job but despite a night fraught with nerves he said the result was never in question.
He said: “There was never any danger of us losing this one. It demonstrates the tremendous work the Lib Dems are doing for all the people across St Helens.
“At next year’s elections we hope to make further gains and continue to help improve the town.”
Spencer played a dead bat to questions about the animosity between the Lib Dems and Labour, insisting he wanted to focus on “local issues” not personalities.
Speaking on Friday morning, Labour leader Rimmer was less diplomatic, repeatedly saying she has "no respect" for the council leader.
She said: "We as the largest party with 23 seats in this council chamber but have no representation on this council
"They (Lib Dems) have taken all the positions on outside bodies from police, transport to waste for the Tories and themselves and yet they are two minority parties running the council and representing the town across Merseyside.
"It is a disappointing result for St Helens. This was an election not out of choice, it followed the sad death of Anne Heyes (Lib Dem), who was a nice lady.
"Nevertheless it led to a by-election and gave an opportunity to win back control of the council and put things right in St Helens.
"It is disappointing that didn't happen. We were disappointed by the amount of people who have not gone out to vote when they pledged to, but it was always going to be an uphill struggle in Moss Bank (The Lib Dems have dominated the ward for the past decade) but we have still significantly reduced the majority."