Election 2017: Battle was ‘like David and Goliath’ says North Norfolk winner Norman Lamb
- Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017
Victorious Norman Lamb says the battle for North Norfolk, which the Conservatives targeted hard, felt like 'David and Goliath'.
The Liberal Democrat has grown used to winning in the seat, having held it for 16 years, but remembers well what it feels like to be beaten.
And with the Tory machine in full swing as they attempted to unseat him, he thought his time was up.
He had former heavyweight world champion boxer Frank Bruno as one of his supporters.
But there were predictions the former health minister would be well and truly on the ropes, with Conservative James Wild looking to land the knockout blow.
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The Tories threw plenty at North Norfolk.
In Mr Wild, they had a candidate who, unlike some of Mr Lamb's previous challengers, had genuine links to the constituency.
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Norwich-born Mr Wild grew up in North Walsham. He went to Manor Road Primary School, before winning an assisted place at Norwich School.
A special adviser to Sir Michael Fallon in three government departments – the business department, the department of energy and the Ministry of Defence - this was a man who knows Westminster.
And the Conservatives knew just what they were doing in selecting him.
A committed supporter of Brexit, that instantly set him at odds with Mr Lamb, who had campaigned for Remain.
Mr Lamb had what he called an 'honest disagreement' with his own party's position to vote against triggering Article 50 unless the government guaranteed a referendum on the final Brexit deal.
He ended up abstaining in the vote - a potentially risky move in a constituency where 58.9pc voted to Leave the European Union.
With the Conservatives targeting the seat, Mr Lamb then suffered a potentially damaging blow when UKIP announced they would not be standing in the seat.
Michael Baker stood for UKIP in 2015, picking up 8,328 votes as Mr Lamb's majority was whittled down from the 11,626 he enjoyed in 2010 to 4,043 in 2015.
Mr Baker announced UKIP would not run in North Norfolk this time and urged the party's supporters to lend their votes to Mr Wild.
Mr Lamb said he did not think UKIP standing aside was 'significant', but the reality was that, with the Conservatives getting 15,256 votes to his 19,299 two years ago the decision had the potential to be a game changer.
However, Mr Lamb was confident that the personal vote for him would stand up - and so it proved.
It is, after all, a constituency which he knows extremely well and in which he has become extremely well-known.
It was back in 1991 that Mr Lamb stepped down from his role as leader of the Lib Dem group at Norwich City Council to pursue a parliamentary career.
Success did not come overnight. In 1992, he finished second to Conservative Ralph Howell, who held the seat for 27 years.
But Mr Lamb did reduce the Conservative majority by more than 2,700.
He tried again in 1997. But this time he lost out to Conservative David Prior, although there were fewer than 1,300 votes in it on that occasion.
His breakthrough came in 2001, when he toppled Mr Prior, albeit by a slender majority of 483.
Since then he has retained the seat four times. seeing off LBC 97.3 presenter Iain Dale, solicitor Trevor Ivory, former Norfolk county councillor Ann Steward and now, Mr Wild.
His 3,512 majority over Mr Wild came despite his opponent having big backing from the Conservatives.
Teams of activists from other parts of the county travelled to North Norfolk to campaign for Mr Wild, with the UEA's General Election forecast predicting he would take Mr Lamb's seat.
And there were no fewer than seven ministerial visits to support the Conservative candidate, including from chancellor Philip Hammond, communities secretary Sajid Javid and defence secretary Sir Michael.
But it's Mr Lamb, who numbered Queen guitarist Brian May among his endorsers, who could justly hum 'We Are The Champions' following this hard-fought election.
Mr Lamb ranked his latest battle for North Norfolk as 'Probably the toughest yet.
'It has felt like a real endurance test but I'm still standing and I'm absolutely thrilled to have won it.'