Andy Tree emerged as the kingmaker at East Hampshire District Council and deputy leader Julie Butler lost her seat by just three votes in a dramatic election count at the Taro Leisure Centre in Petersfield on Friday.
By the time the final result was announced at 8.05pm, Cllr Tree – leader of the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party – held the balance of power. East Hampshire had become a hung council, with no party able to secure the 22 seats required to gain overall control.
The Conservatives won 19 seats, down from 32 in 2019, the Liberal Democrats 14 and the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party all six that it contested, leaving Cllr Tree as the man for the Tories and Lib Dems to talk to if they wish to form a coalition to run the authority. The Greens won two seats and Labour one, with an Independent completing the 43-strong line-up.
Conservative Julie Butler's defeat was the big shock of the day. After five years as second in command at the council, she polled 420 votes but was edged out in Petersfield Heath by Liberal Democrat Louise Bevan, who secured 423.
Cllr Bevan said: "I feel honoured and humbled that a large number of people have voted for Liberal Democrat values. I have a very big responsibility and very large shoes to fill."
Council leader Cllr Richard Millard comfortably retained his Headley seat but did not appear for the reading of his result.
Cllr Tree topped the poll in Whitehill Chase, with the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party's deputy leader Catherine Clark taking the second seat in the ward.
Also elected for the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party were Penny Flux, Adeel Shah, Kirsty Mitchell and Mike Steevens. Their smallest majority was Adeel Shah's 286 in Whitehill Pinewood – and he polled more votes than his three opponents combined.
Cllr Tree said: "One voter said she came back from holiday to vote for us and one said they had never voted in their life. Me and Catherine are delighted, and as leader of the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party I'm delighted with our results this evening, so thank you very much."
The first result of the day saw Liberal Democrat group leader Steve Hunt re-elected in Alton Amery, and predictions of a Kings Pond backlash against Lib Dems who also served on Alton Town Council proved unfounded, with Suzie Burns and Ginny Boxall both getting back in with plenty of votes to spare.
Alton Eastbrooke provided Labour with its only member of the new council, with Barbara Tansey winning the seat by 59 votes. She said: "I'm still in shock. I'm really glad we've retained Eastbrooke for the Labour Party."
James Hogan said he was "pretty emotional" after winning Horndean Downs for the Green Party. Fellow Green Ian James took second place in Liss to secure a second seat for his party, ending Conservative Keith Budden's seven-year stay on the council in the process.
Cllr James said: "I'm surprised but very grateful that the people of Liss have selected me to represent them. I'm just shocked. It's amazing."
Tory Russell Oppenheimer switched from Liss to Petersfield Bell Hill to contest this election but finished 219 votes adrift of Jamie Matthews, the only Independent to win a seat.
Experienced Conservative Graham Hill squeezed home by 13 votes in Alton Holybourne but was full of praise for his youthful Liberal Democrat rival Samuel Corlett.
He said: "I just want to congratulate Samuel Corlett. You're a very worthy candidate and it was a very clean and considerate campaign. Watch this space, this guy is going places."
Cllr Hill also hinted at just how much work goes into an election campaign. He added: "Finally, I want to thank my wife. She's had to put up with a lot and it's going to cost me a very expensive dinner tonight."
The only Whitehill Town Council election saw Adam Carew, standing as an Independent in Whitehill Hogmoor, steamrollered by the Whitehill & Bordon Community Party juggernaut. His 323 votes left him 543 behind the nearest of his five elected Whitehill & Bordon Community Party opponents.
And his 20 years on East Hampshire District Council came to an end in similar fashion in Whitehill, Hogmoor and Greatham. The 2021-22 district council chairman trailed in third, 339 votes short of the second elected Whitehill & Bordon Community Party candidate.
Other big names to fall were Conservative Ken Moon, beaten by two Liberal Democrats in Clanfield to end his 16 years on the district council, and Conservative district council chairman Sally Pond, who was 550 votes away from winning one of the two Whitehill Chase seats.
Four Marks Parish Council's first contested election in 30 years ended in triumph for a group of Independent candidates opposing the council's plan to build a £4 million community building at Four Marks Recreation Ground.
All eight – Karin Black, Howard Briggs, Sarah Coulson, Tim Gebbett, Paul McAllister, Andrew Medhurst, Michael Smith and Roger Speed – were elected alongside Kellie Knight and Reginald Pullen.
Michael Smith said the vote had been caused by a "very controversial issue", and added: "We will be representing all the residents of Four Marks."
But the most tears of joy were shed by Tory Charlene Maines, who won in Rowlands Castle.
She said: "This is my first election and I'm standing for the Conservatives. We haven't been very popular, as you can imagine, and it's been such a journey for me personally. It's my son's birthday and I've been very emotional today.
"But today is all about the residents of Rowlands Castle and all I can do is give 100 per cent to them."
It fell to returning officer Daniel Toohey, who announced all the results from the lectern, to round off the ten-hour marathon.
He said: "We got there in the end and another day of democracy has come to a close. My thanks to all the candidates, it has been a pleasure to serve you. I wish all the successful candidates success in their coming term."