The Tories’ once-healthy majority was slashed to just one member at May’s all-out local elections – and Coun Dart’s death in October meant the party had equal councillors to Labour and the Lib Dems combined, although it still formed the cabinet as the single largest group.
This situation of no overall control, known as a hung council, did not last long, however, as Conservative candidate, Steve Weisinger, held the seat on Thursday’s by-election with 1,453 votes compared to 1,075 votes for Labour’s Phil Beaumont.
John Lenton, of UKIP, came in third with 195 votes, Andrew Day, of the Green Party, secured 111 and Lib Dem candidate, Cath Smith, finished last with just 23 votes.
The Lib Dems blamed the poor performance on the fact that no party appeared beside her name on the ballot paper due to an administrative error at the party. The turnout was a healthy 32.56 per cent.
Coun Rod Bluh, the council leader, said he was quite confident the Tories would win, the only question was by how much, and claimed the result reflected a fair, effective campaign which had seen councillors canvassing on doorsteps.
He said: “We're delighted with the result and it's a really good result for Steve and he will make a really good successor to Doreen.
"Clearly it was important to win this. All wins are important but given our one majority position this was one that was really important to win, both is terms of practicality and psychologically.
“We’re really pleased we’ve got a really strong vote on a reduced turnout so I don’t think we could be much happier with the result."
Coun Weisinger, who has also been a Highworth town councillor for 12 years, pledges to focus on keeping council tax down while securing the best possible services and facilities for all residents.
He said: “I want to say thank you to all the people who have come out and voted for me. The team that I’ve had behind me has been absolutely superb. And Doreen Dart was a wonderful councillor and I intend to follow the example she has set for me.”
Justin Tomlinson, the Swindon North MP, said: “It’s a real credit to our candidate and his positive campaign to get such a thumping majority.”
Coun Jim Grant, the Labour group leader, said he was disappointed Mr Beaumont did not win but was pleased he secured more than 1,000 votes.
He said: “What we did by the work we put into the campaign was ensure that the Conservative Party, both its MPs, all of its councillors, worked their socks off to try to get their candidate elected.”
Mr Beaumont said: “Of course I’m disappointed. We were running an absolutely brilliant and superb campaign and I think where things didn’t go well for me was in Blunsdon and the villages.”