THE local elections race is into its final week after parties clashed in Hythe when the national leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, visited to support his party’s campaign.
Sir Vince, whose wife Rachel Smith has a home near Brockenhurst, joined activists and Brexit opponents canvassing in a crowded Hythe high street in the run-up to the district council vote on 2nd May.
The event prompted the Conservatives to organise a counter-demonstration led by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, joined by council candidates and party members.
Sir Vince said: “I am delighted by the crowd here today. It shows there’s an upsurge in support for us.
“I expect us to make inroads into the Conservative vote in the local elections.”
After chatting with voters, the 75-year-old former coalition business secretary made his way down to the Hythe ferry terminal in Prospect Place.
Locally the Tories are defending a huge majority with 56 seats on the 60-seat New Forest District Council. The party is fielding a full slate of candidates against 28 for the Lib Dems and 30 for Labour.
New Forest Lib Dem leader Cllr David Harrison said: “I’m really pleased by the boost that Vince Cable has given us here.
“People are very positive about our campaign with our 12 pledges.”
The list includes limiting council tax rises to inflation, more affordable homes, improved recycling rates, and opposing any attempt by ABP to develop Dibden Bay.
Cllr James Binns, chair of New Forest East Conservatives, reacted to Sir Vince’s visit: “These local elections are about local matters and we are pleased that we are the party concentrating on this, with an excellent track record to defend – unlike the Lib Dems, who are using Brexit in desperation to distract from their own poor record.
“We firmly believe that the time to address Brexit will be at the upcoming EU elections later in May.”
Labour kicked off their election campaign last month with a protest against the Tories’ “privatisation” plans to hand over management of the New Forest’s five public leisure centres to an outside organisation.
The visit by Sir Vince was to the two-seat Dibden and Hythe East ward where the candidates are Sandra Delemare (Lib Dem), Philip Dowd (Lib Dem), Chris Harrison (Conservative) and Dan Poole (Conservative).
Polls open on Thursday 2nd May from 7am-10am.
For a full list of New Forest District Council candidates click here.