IT'S meltdown. That was one Labour activist's view even before the result was announced in English Martyrs' School. The poll there was to decide the three candidates for Holgate - York's most marginal ward at the last election, writes Matthew Woodcock.

News of his party's devastating defeat to the Greens in Fishergate had just come through and massive swings to the Liberal Democrats were being reported across the city.

It would be no different here.

The second Labour candidate had beaten the Liberal Democrat by only six votes in 1999, making the ward a potential cliffhanger. The boundary changes, which increased the number of councillors to three, added to the uncertainty.

But in a major shock, the Liberal Democrat triumvirate of Bartlett, Fairclough and Nimmo won with some ease - the outgoing Labour councillor, Liz Edge, finding herself 35 votes adrift in fourth place.

You couldn't help feeling they knew something as they supped bitter over the road at the Puss in Boots pub during the count. "I think I've got it in the bag," Bill Fairclough had predicted between sips - a bold statement from someone who wasn't given a prayer six weeks ago, and only took on the ward at the last minute.

Labour candidate Peter Finlay was far less at ease as he nervously watched the count unfold.

"I couldn't have done any more," he said. "We'll be back."

Liz Edge, a Labour stalwart and tireless servant of Holgate, accepted defeat gracefully, but also with sadness and a real sense of disbelief.

"The people of Holgate have spoken," she said, "This is democracy in action.

"I've never known a time like it - it just doesn't make sense."

Updated: 15:22 Friday, May 02, 2003