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The battle for control of Northumberland council ended in an extraordinary drawing of straws for the final seat, denying the Tories outright control despite a huge swing in their favour.

After successive recounts of the South Beach ward in Blyth, with the results a dead heat between the conservative and LibDem candidates, a straw was cut in two at the county in the Wentworth Sports Hall in Hexham and the two top contenders drew. The LibDem drew the longer part and was duly named as the ward councillor.

Had the Tories drawn the longer piece of straw, they would have gained 34 seats on the 67-seat council.

Despite this bizarre end to the fight, the Tories have by far the largest number of seats. Officially, this means Northumberland has no overall control for any one party, but the Tories are expected to form a minority administration. Labour had run the council for most of the last 40 years. Both Labour and the Lib Dems were the big losers in the latest contest.

“I’ve seen it before in my own constituency of Great Yarmouth and when I was a council leader in Essex,” said home office minister Brandon Lewis after drawing the short straw. “I’ve seen people drawing cards. I’ve seen straws drawn before. It’s a really good example of why, at any election, every vote counts.”

In 2000, the Worksop North East seat on Bassetlaw District council was won by Labour on the toss of a coin after three counts. Christopher Underwood-Frost, a Tory councillor in Lincolnshire held his seat in 2007 by the toss of a coin. And on two occasions – in 1988 and 1992 – control of Stirling district council was decided by cutting a deck of cards.

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