Labour's big push in the South East reaps mixed results

Ed Miliband during a walkabout in Gravesend Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Ed Miliband hailed Labour's victory in Gravesham as a sign of the party's progress

The votes are in, the counting done - both in the local elections and alternative vote referendum and the South East's new political picture has emerged.

In the run-up to the elections Labour made a big push to win back support in the region.

The Labour leader Ed Miliband knows how important it is for his party to be able to win back councils here to show they can win again in the South, not just the traditional Labour heartlands.

Gravesham was a key battleground of these local elections - Ed Miliband visited twice during the campaign and the Prime Minister also met activists in Gravesham.

Labour were confident of taking it and I was told in the early hours of Friday, before the results were announced, that it was likely the Labour leader would go there to celebrate and thank his supporters later that day.

He arrived just after ten o'clock bouyed up by the result, which was undoubtedly an important one.

But elsewhere, in the South East Labour didn't make the gains they were hoping for - they didn't take their other key targets of Dover and Thanet and it was a poor performance in Crawley where they could have seized control with seven extra seats, but failed to register a single gain.

The Green Party were also celebrating after becoming the biggest party on Brighton and Hove Council. The party gained 10 councillors but fell five short of taking overall control of the council.

The Greens now have 23 councillors, while the Conservatives have 18, down from 26, and Labour remains on 13.

It means Brighton now has the largest group of Green councillors in the UK.

Tory increases

As for the Conservatives, many had predicted they would suffer significant losses a year on from the general election and with the coalition making difficult decisions at Westminster.

But, it came as a surprise to even many Tory MP's that their vote not only held up but actually increased in some places.

The Conservatives maintained control of Medway Council, gaining two seats. Labour Made gains of five, taking their total number of seats to 15.

But it was a bad night for the Liberal Democrats here as it was across the country.

They lost four seats in Medway leaving them with only three representatives on the council. But worse was to come when they lost control of Lewes Council.

Their loss was, literally, the Conservative's gain. The Tories scraped a majority with 22 seats, to the Liberal Democrat's 18 seats. One seat was taken by an independent candidate.

Image caption While the Lib Dems lost control of Lewes they managed to retain power in Eastbourne

It's a huge blow to the Lib Dems who lost control of the council for the first time since 1991.

There's no doubt the result will be seen as a protest against decisions taken by the Liberal Democrats in government, particularly the trebling of student tuition fees.

The town's MP and Transport Minister Norman Baker admitted the result was a "massive disappointment".

"It is very disappointing to lose control of the council," he said.

"Quite clearly there was unhappiness with the coalition government, particularly amongst those who backed us at the last election because they didn't want the Tories in power."

There was some consolation in Eastbourne where the Liberal Democrats held onto control but with a reduced majority.

While the Liberal Democrats are left licking their wounds over their losses at the local elections, there was further bad news to come.

Region says 'No'

The South East, like the country as a whole, voted overwhelmingly 'No' to changing the voting system from the current first-past-the-post system to the alternative vote.

More than 70% of those who voted in this region said 'No'.

The result leaves the Lib Dem leader's hopes of changing the voting system in tatters.

The Yes and No campaigns pitted the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats directly against each other.

Both parties insist the coalition will survive but it will be interesting to see just how these results affect relations between them.