IN the female head to head that nobody could predict, Conservative Caroline Nokes dramatically snatched victory in Romsey and Southampton North.
Amid jubilant scenes the Tory candidate was declared the winner of one of the country’s tightest marginal seats with a majority of 4,156 votes.
After a night of high drama, she smiled widely after finally beating her arch rival, the Lib Dem’s Sandra Gidley.
Mrs Nokes said: “It’s been a long five years since the 2005 election when I stood in this same hall and lost by one of the narrowest margins. I was determined then I would keep on fighting for the constituency and I think today’s result is vindication of five years hard work”.
The Conservative’s joy spelled bitter disappointment for the Liberal Democrats, who have held the seat since 2000.
After serving the people of Romsey as MP for the last decade, Sandra Gidley bowed out stoically. She said: “I really don’t think it’s anything I’ve done. It’s a bit frustrating and being respected doesn’t seem to be enough.”
Victory was all the sweeter for Mrs Nokes as she had been denied victory by the Liberal Democrats in 2005 when Mrs Gidley beat her by just 125 votes.
This time around, the Conservatives had earmarked the seat as number four on their target list to capture across the whole country, with leader David Cameron even paying a visit to Romsey.
The atmosphere at Mountbatten School in Romsey throughout the night was tense. There was a definite split in the mood in the two camps with the Tories exchanging smiles while the Lib Dems looked downbeat.
Romsey and Southampton North is a new seat, covering the affluent Hampshire town and the Tory-leaning Southampton suburb of Bassett.
Experts have calculated that had this seat existed at the time of the 2005 General Election, the Liberal Democrats would have won it by just 204 votes over the Conservatives.
Traditionally a Tory stronghold, Romsey was seized by the Lib Dems when Mrs Gidley won a by-election in May 2000.
Achieving a 12.6 per cent swing from the Conservatives, she became MP following the death of the sitting Conservative MP, Michael Colvin, and retained the seat in the successive 2001 and 2005 elections.
The 2010 election campaign was hard fought with accusations of dirty tricks. Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats called in the police to complain of vandalism and the disappearance of prominent posters in the tight race for the seat.
With a 72 per cent turnout, the result was declared at 3.45am.
The bookies’ favourite, Mrs Nokes attracted votes by opposing fluoridation of local water supplies and imposed regional housebuilding targets.
A Test Valley borough councillor for the last 11 years, the new MP has lived in the Romsey area for most of her life.
She was educated at Thornegate School, Wellow, Romsey Abbey Primary School, Romsey School, La Sagesse Convent in Romsey and then Peter Symonds' College, Winchester. Mrs Nokes read politics at the University of Sussex from 1991 to 1994.