General Election 2024: The Local Voting Picture

By Robin Young

WHAT a difference a day made, with the climax coming in the small hours yesterday (Friday), when a defeated Rishi Sunak bowed to what had been inevitable for months and conceded defeat to Labour’s first UK Prime Minister in 14 years, Sir Keir Starmer.

Locally, the drama had unfolded at the election count in Gosport Leisure Centre where a subdued atmosphere was in keeping with the damp and dreary conditions outside. Nationally, the scene had been set by the stunning exit polls, broadcast at 10pm on Thursday, which predicted a historic Starmer landslide and consequent Sunak humiliation.

And for a time, as the boxes were emptied and the ballots counted, Labour’s Edward Batterbury was optimistic that his campaign would reflect a UK-wide trend ending 14 years of austerity and chaotic post-pandemic government. “It’s going to be close,” he confided to his large, enthusiastic team of party activists and supporters.

It was – but not close enough to do more than secure him a creditable second place to returned Conservative Dame Caroline Dinenage, with 11,776 votes to her winning total of 17,830. It was a considerable improvement in the Labour performance since Dame Caroline’s 2010 Westminster debut but the main impact on her earlier 20,000-plus results was down to the 7,983 votes polled by Reform UK’s Matthew Mulliss.

Previously, Gosport’s Liberal Democrats had taken second place but, despite their control of the borough council and Sir Ed Davey’s high profile electioneering, on the night they were noticeable by their absence. The Lib-Dems came fourth, with 4,039 votes.

As the scale of change across England, Wales and Scotland became more obvious, the group gathered underneath the TV set in the Leisure Centre foyer had continued to ebb and flow. By the time Dame Caroline had arrived at the count, shortly before 2.30am, with an entourage of friends and family, including faithful dad Fred, the embattled premier had already conceded defeat.

Congratulating her defeated opponents for the way they had conducted their campaigns, she paid tribute to her own team, saying: that it was not so much her victory but down to “the work that had been going on for years”.

Acknowledging that it had been a difficult night for the Conservatives, Dame Caroline added that it was the reason why she valued the trust placed in her even more. As her political opponents took it in turns to thank their supporters, it was Reform UK’s Mr Mulliss who pledged: “We’re here to fight another day.”

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Fareham and Waterlooville, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman had also beaten off a Labour challenge, securing 17,561 to Gemma Furnivall’s 11,482. Lib Dem Bella Hewitt came third on 9533 and Reform UK’s Kevan Chippindall-Higgin close behind with 9,084.

Already being tipped as a potential leadership contender to succeed Mr Sunak, Mrs Braverman said after being returned to her seat: “I want to briefly address the results around the country, and there’s only one thing I can say… sorry, I’m sorry,

“The great British people voted for us over 14 years and we did not keep our promises…. we acted like we were entitled to your votes.”

Nearby, in Portsmouth North, ousted MP and former Speaker of the House Penny Mordaunt – arguably one of the most popular members of the outgoing Cabinet – was gracious in defeat, pledging to do what she could to help with a smooth handover to victorious Labour MP Amanda Martin, adding: “The public here have good sense; democracy is never wrong.”

PICTURED BY CONNOR STEEL:  Reform UK candidate Matt Mulliss speaks to crowd at Gosport Leisure Centre as constituency result is declared.