ON a bruising night for the Conservative party, front bencher Jeremy Hunt at least retained his seat in South West Surrey despite losing a big chunk of his 2015 majority to National Health Action candidate Dr Louise Irvine.
Mr Hunt’s total vote tally fell slightly from 34,199 in 2015 to 33,683 (a 56 per cent share) as the result was declared shortly before 4am on Friday morning - ensuring the reigning Health Secretary will serve the constituency for a fourth straight term.
However, his majority was cut from 28,556 at the previous election to 21,590, as his closest rival Dr Irvine more than doubled her number of votes from 4,851 to 12,093 (20 per cent) to finish second.
Labour candidate David Black’s 7,606 (13 per cent) votes saw the party leapfrog UKIP - who’s candidate Mark Webber saw his votes slashed from 5,643 to just 1,083 (two per cent) - and cement its position above the Lib Dems - despite Ollie Purkiss increasing the party’s number of votes from 3,586 to 5,967 (10 per cent) - in SW Surrey to come third.
Turnout was also up in the constituency, rising from 74 per cent of the electorate in 2015 to 78 per cent - the highest since 1997.
Giving his victory speech, Mr Hunt said he was "deeply honoured and humbled" to be elected for the fourth time to represent South West Surrey in parliament, and attacked Dr Irvine and National Health Action for "exploiting" his role as Health Secretary.
"For nearly five years I have had one of the most difficult and challenging jobs in public life and perhaps unsurprisingly one party in particular has tried to exploit that, to question both our record with the NHS and also our motives, which have never been anything other than to make our NHS the safest, highest quality healthcare service anywhere in the world," he said.
"I am deeply humbled that the people of South West Surrey have chosen to reject those falsehoods in tonight’s vote, and I’m deeply proud that they took that decision."
He promised to work for every single person in South West Surrey "whoever they voted for", and on the national stage vowed to "strain every sinew to work for a more prosperous, stronger country with public services that work well for all members of our society".
He also thanked Waverley Borough Council for staging the election, his "fantastic" team in South West Surrey Conservatives, and his wife, mother and brother who were in attendance at the count.
Responding, Mr Hunt’s closest rival Dr Irvine said: "Two years ago Jeremy, when you made your winning speech last time, you said ’Louise, we’re not the people you say we are, you can trust us on the NHS’.
"The big increase in my vote, two and a half times what I received last time, shows that the people of South West Surrey are really worried about the NHS and really care about it.
"What they’re seeing is a deterioration of services in many areas, they are extremely concerned, many of them are parents of nurses, health workers etc who are feeling extremely demoralised.
"You can’t just use sound bites to say that the NHS is ok. People are expecting action and they will expect you to so something about it."
See next week’s Herald, on sale Thursday, June 15, for more detailed analysis and exclusive interviews from the South West Surrey election count.
General Election 2017, South West Surrey results in full:
*Jeremy Hunt (Conservatives) - 33,683 votes (elected)
*Dr Louise Irvine (National Health Action) - 12,093
*David Black (Labour) - 7,606
*Ollie Purkiss (Lib Dems) - 5,967
*Mark Webber (UKIP) - 1,083
Total votes - 60,432
Electorate - 78,042
Ballot papers issued - 60,583
Ballot papers rejected - 151
Turnout - 78 per cent.