The Labour party in Hastings saved their best until last on election night when a youth centre manager from Silverhill knocked out the Tory leader by just two votes.
Andy Batsford, 42, was still pinching himself when the result was read out in the packed gymnasium of Horntye Park at 2.15am - the very last of the night.
The father-of-three who runs Xtrax in Hastings punched the air with delight when the returning officer delivered the killer blow to Matthew Lock after six agonising recounts.
The result of 665 to 663 was one of the closest ever called.
“Thanks for serving so well Mr Lock, but this is a new time,” he cried.
“I went out to ask the people of St Helens to trust me and that’s what there going to get. Sorry for keeping you tonight but what a night!”
Labour gained six seats on the night giving them 23 in total, the largest number of seats on the council in their history in the town.
Mr Lock and deputy leader Matthew Beaver were both given their marching orders by the electorate on one of the wettest and coldest election nights in decades.
Mr Lock said: “I thought I should lead from the front and help other candidates in our other wards.
“I am satisfied I spent enough time in St Helens but I think we have all been affected by the national picture.
“People are feeling the pinch and they thought they would send us a message. The wet weather did not help either. “But there’s no hiding the fact that I’m bitterly disappointed.”
Celebrating his party’s dramatic night, Labour leader Jeremy Birch said: “The red rose of Labour has never smelled so sweet.
“We consider our gains as an endorsement of our policies. Labour has worked very hard in very difficult financial circumstances. Hastings people sent a picture to national government.
“We knew there was always a solid basis in St Helens for Labour and Andy’s win was our coup-de-grace.
“We were only really targeting Ore, Hastings and Baird. Anything more than that was going to be a bonus.
“We expect more Labour focus on Hastings in the coming months as it is a litmus test for the party in the south of England.
“If Labour is going to return to office it has to win seats like Hastings in the south of England and we’ve shown that the area is now ripe.”
Labour’s Peter Chowney, who held Tressell ward, said his election pledges paid off.
“We put a lot of effort into our campaign,” he said. “I fought my campaign on the back of regeneration such as the Jerwood, Havelock Road, Priory Quarter and the Pier.
“I want to see a tourist attraction brought into the St Leonards seafront area – I want an attraction at that end of town such as the LIDO. We need a transport link on the seafront. This is what I focused on throughout and if I can get our wonderful pier back on its feet in four year that will be a major success.”
Speaking from the stage after their victory was announced, Hollington ward winner for Labour, Emily Westley said: “I would like to thank voters for coming out in such terrible weather. “I thank the people of Hastings for putting their trust in me. I promise to work hard for them for the next four years.”
Dominic Sabetian, also victorious for Labour, said: “Thanks to the people of Braybrooke. We don’t take any votes for granted. These result show quite clearly the people of hastings are turning back to Labour.
“God knows the coalition has offered the people of Hastings enough reasons for turning against them.
“They have decided the burden of cuts falls on the poorest communities. The wealthier communities have hardly had any cuts at all. Hastings people have a keen sense of fair play and they have delivered their verdict today.”
Peter Pragnell, winner for the Conservatives in Conquest ward, said: “It’s not been a very good night but we will be back.”
Brandishing a copy of the Labour manifesto, outgoing mayor and Gensing victor Kim Forward, said: “This is our manifesto – standing up for hastings and st Leonards and this is how we won the election.”
Maze Hill winner for the Tories, Maureen Charlesworth, was given a scare by 22-year-old newcomer James Bacon.
Just 34 votes separated the pair.
“Well done James – he’s done a very good campaign,” she acknowledged. “I will continue to work to improve things for everyone in our ward.”
West St Leonards victor Nigel Howard, who ended the deputy Tory leader Matthew Beaver’s hopes, said: “It’s a hell of a change. It doesn’t take much to realise what it says about our town and our country. We have the most reactionary Tory government since the 1930. We have soup kitchens and the highest youth unemployment levels since records began. I think the government wants to commit suicide and I think they should. I look forward to defending our town and doing the best for our economy.”
Ironically Labour’s star performer Andy Batsford left the gymnasium on his own as Horntye staff quickly started dismantling the election furniture.
“My three kids are too young to come out,” he added. “But I will have one hell of a story for them in the morning.
“When I woke up on Thursday morning I never thought I would end the day knocking out the Tory leader.
“I think people really listened to me on the doorstep in St Helens and want work hard to give young people in this town jobs and opportunity.”
Hastings MP Amber Rudd said: “Disappointing, but it seems to be the same in the rest of the country, where Labour have a presence, they have made gains. It is a national reaction.
“It is about kicking a government in the middle of a five year term, we have to re-group over the next couple of years - I don’t think it is a disaster.
“I am particularly disappointed to see Matthew Lock lose, who has served Hastings as a councillor for many years, and it is a great loss.”
For full details of the results visit: www.hastings.gov.uk/decisions_democracy/voting_petitioning_having_your_say/elections_voting/electionresults/?elecdate=03052012&electype=borough#ash