Recognition factor counted for the former mayor

Sandra Gidley's rise to become the MP for Romsey is the tale of yet another local politician made good. The pharmacist, who lived for more than 14 years in the Hampshire town she now represents, graduated to Westminster from the training ground of her local council in just five years.

She became a Liberal Democrat member of Romsey Borough Council in 1995 and was made the district's youngest female mayor in 1997 at the age of 40.

Many attribute her success in turning a comfortable Tory majority into a 3,000-vote Lib- eral Democrat advantage to the local knowledge gained from an active community role. Her high recognition factor on the streets of Romsey meant she did not greet her electors with the warm but superficial anonymity of many an aspiring politician, observers said.

Instead, Mrs Gidley, who has two teenage children, was out shaking hands with a one-time badminton opponent, one of her children's teachers or a member of a local resident's committee. One of the dozens of Liberal Democrat workers who flooded the town for the by-election campaign said: "She had the key electoral advantage of being known by many on a personal level.

"No amount of leaflets, political back-stabbing or canvassing is going to beat that."

Mrs Gidley, who managed her own pharmacy before joining the trail to the House of Commons, is married to Bill, an electronics engineer.

Her CV names reading, cookery, the theatre and "a tough game of badminton" as her pastimes.

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