Some say we do things differently in this part of the world and, cliché or not, that is certainly true of the 2021 local and mayoral elections, writes Kevin Whitmore of becg.
For while the story nationally is being told in the context of a single parliamentary by-election win and what that means for our politics at Westminster, the results from local council and mayoral contests start to paint a different picture.
Here in the North West, it is still possible to travel from Liverpool along the M62 and pass through Labour council after Labour council all the way to the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. Yes, many of the councils along the way have been Labour strongholds for generations, particularly on Merseyside and yes, Labour did see some losses in these councils on Thursday. But the same journey also takes you through several parliamentary constituencies won by the Conservatives in 2019, which gave the Tories hope of continuing their advances beyond the ‘red wall’ in the region.
Nonetheless, apart from Pendle in Lancashire and Bolton in Greater Manchester, the Conservatives did not secure enough gains to make a difference to the electoral landscape across most of the region, and even went backwards in some boroughs, such as Trafford.
So what is going on?
All four mayoral elections in the North West were held by the incumbent party, with significant increases in the share of the vote for Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool City Region and Paul Dennett in Salford. In Liverpool, Labour’s Joanne Anderson has made history to become the first black woman to lead a major British city, winning 59% of the votes cast.
Gains for the Conservative party, meanwhile, came in parts of the region still wrestling with how to secure greater devolved powers from Whitehall.
Speaking to some party activists before polling day in Greater Manchester, a ‘Burnham Bounce’ was being referred to with previously non-Labour voters switching to the party for the Mayoral contest and also voting Labour at a local level.
Devolution provides a platform for the incumbent to change people’s lives in a way that very few elected politicians can. Whether it is council houses in Salford, bus regulation in Greater Manchester or ultrafast digital infrastructure across Liverpool City Region, decisions taken by metro and city mayors are visible and easy to assess by voters. In an election year when both local and mayoral elections are happening at the same time, this is likely to have helped shore-up Labour’s vote.
But it’s not all rosy for Labour
The competing story from this year’s election results across the region must be the rise of the Green party, which has secured its first councillors on a slew of local authorities across the region. Gains in Wirral put the party in a strong position to influence the peninsula’s forthcoming local plan and with wins in Knowsley – where the party is now the official opposition – St Helens, Manchester, Stockport, and Halton, the party now has a toehold from which to expand.
Elsewhere, Rossendale and West Lancashire have slipped into the category of No Overall Control. In Greater Manchester, the Lib Dems are now the largest political party in Stockport and in with a shot of running the council.
Nevertheless, the political map across the North West remains strikingly red today compared with the rest of the country. For built environment professionals, this offers an element of stability in places where local plans are expected to move forward over the next 12 months.
But, with the rise of Green and hyper-local independent councillors, the debate about how and where places should grow just got tougher.
- Kevin Whitmore is head of North at specialist communications consultancy BECG