Public Consultation + Political Engagement

What do local elections nominations tell us about the parties?

A polling stationThe Statements of Persons Nominated in this year’s local elections were published last week. These detail the names of the candidates and their parties, which will appear on ballot papers next month where elections are being held.

With less than three weeks to go before Polling Day, this is what the nominations tell us about the state of the political parties in the North West:

Making up the numbers

In Greater Manchester, six councils who normally elect in thirds will be having “all out” elections due to boundary changes. These are Bolton, Oldham, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan.

In order not to lose face the major parties therefore need to find a person to contest every seat, otherwise they can be accused by their rivals of not being serious about wanting to run the authority. In numerical terms you would require names to put against 60, 60, 63, 57, 63 and 75 vacancies respectively.

Labour has managed this in all of the authorities except Oldham, where they are three short.

The Conservatives have not filled their slates in Oldham, Tameside and Wigan, including failing to offer three candidates to the electors of Ashton Hurst in Tameside, where they have been making gains from Labour in recent years.

The Lib Dems have also struggled to find names. Whilst they have never had much of a presence in Tameside or Wigan (and don’t this year), their inability to field a full slate in Oldham, where as recently as 2011 the party led the Council, shows that the legacy of their 2010 coalition deal with the Conservatives casts a long shadow.

While those parties who have tapped up enough activists to put their names forward may play on the fact that their opponents haven’t, fielding a full slate could yet prove to be a double-edged sword. One group leader of the main parties said “I have no idea who many of these people are!” when countersigning nomination papers earlier this month. It could make for fun council meetings if a number of unknown quantities are elected to office in May!

Abandoning the red wall

Until not so long ago the Conservative Party would’ve been eyeing up Parliamentary seat gains in places like Oldham East & Saddleworth and Stalybridge & Hyde for the next General Election. Though failing to find enough people to stand in this year’s Council elections gives an indication that their activist base and ground operation does not exist to support offensive campaigns.

But surely the most worrying will be the shortage of candidates in Wigan, where the party won the Leigh Parliamentary seat in 2019. James Grundy doesn’t appear to have a base of campaigners in the wings ready to support his re-election bid, whenever the next general election is called.

Chicken runs

Two notable “chicken runs” this year are Conservative leaders of Bolton Council and Wyre Council. In the former, following a close shave with the Lib Dems in his Westhoughton North seat last year, Martyn Cox is jumping to the much safer Tory-stronghold of Heaton, Lostock and Chew Moor. In the latter, Leader Michael Vincent is abandoning the residents of Carleton, where Labour is fighting hard for a historic gain with a backdrop of reducing Tory majorities in the last few election cycles, for the arguably more reliable Victoria & Norcross ward.

Hyperlocal burnout

From 2019 onwards a number of hyperlocal “independent” parties sprung up across Greater Manchester. Beginning in Farnworth they spread, mainly across the northern GM boroughs, to Horwich, Kearsley, Radcliffe, Middleton and Failsworth.

Though beneath their folksy names and supposed focus on local issues many have suffered from infighting. “Farnworth and Kearsley First” lost two of their Councillors to defections within their first terms. This year the party is contesting only 3 of the 9 seats that its name suggests it caters for.

The Failsworth Independent Party, which only contested its first elections in 2021, saw its Leader resign earlier this year in an acrimonious split that continues to play out on Facebook. She has taken her Councillor husband and one other Councillor with her. The party which remains will be contesting just 4 of the 6 seats in Failsworth.

As an anorak for this sort of stuff, I will be waiting with great anticipation for the final Council line ups on May 5th. Until then, please check out BECG’s elections insight pages or get in touch for more advice one what to expect from potential new Council administrations next month.

Sean Fielding is an Associate Director at political consultants BECG and the former Labour Leader of Oldham Council. He can be contacted here.

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