Dawn had broken outside Clitheroe’s Roefield Leisure Centre before the result of Ribble Valley’s Parlaimentary Election was revealed inside.
It was approaching 5-30 am on Friday when the centre – a bustle of vote verifying and counting activity since 10 pm the previous night – fell silent for the long-awaited announcement.
It was already apparent from the running totals displayed next to the mounting piles of ballot papers for each candidate, that Conservative Nigel Evans was the clear and undisputed winner. There would be no recounty needed here.
Even so, there was cheering from his supporters as Returning Officer Marshal Scott read out his impressive tally of votes at 25,404 – only 1,435 fewer than all the votes polled by the other seven candidates combined, and just 894 fewer than Mr Evans’ 2010 total.
But there was no joyous wave or victory punch to the air from the man who has represented Ribble Valley at Westminster for the past 23 years.
Instead he seemed humbled and genuinely moved – not sursprising given his ordeal over the previous two years; his arrest in May 2013 and subsequent charges of sexual assault, indecent assault and rape, leading to a salacious court case which threatened to leave his political career in tatters, even after he was acquitted on all charges.
Stepping to the podium, Mr Evans first thanked all the staff who had manned polling stations and counted votes well into the early hours, telling them: “You must all be shattered, so I’ll make this as short as I can so you can all go home.”
He continued: “I am absolutely delighted with the victory that we have all – my supporters and I – have won this evening in the Ribble Valley.
“Winning the majority that we have, getting the vote that we’ve attained, would have seemed completely unrealistic, particularly two years ago. And so, a heartfelt thanks to the Leader of my Party, who stood by me, to my Association, who backed me, and indeed now my constituents, who have endorsed me as their Member of Parliament for the next five years.”
Mr Evans went on to thank his campaign team “for all the support that they have given me through what has been a very, very long campaign”.
He also paid tribute to his seven opponents, offering them “great thanks for the very clean fight that you fought, an absolutely clean fight”.
“The work now continues,” he said. “I have spent the last seven weeks talking about economic recovery and getting the job done and that is something that I intend to do.”
In a more lighthearted aside, he added: “The Returning Officer has given me an envelope that says ‘Information for newly-elected Members of Parliament’. I think I could have written this, but nonetheless it means a lot to me and I look forward to returning to Parlaiment on Monday to continue the work that I started in 1992 representing wonderful people in the most beautiful constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom. Thank you very much.”