With a week until voters go to the polls for local elections, Kevin Whitmore looks at which councils to watch in the North West where swing seats may yield some surprising results.
It’s been a year since the Metro Mayors took office and nearly a year since Theresa May lost her majority in Parliament. Since then, the Conservatives have been bogged down in Brexit negotiations, Labour has lurched from one crisis to the next and a sizable chunk of the population keep shouting for the creation of a new ‘centrist’ party whilst also leaving the Liberal Democrats to languish around 7% in the polls.
Against this national picture, we can expect to see some interesting results locally on Thursday 3 May.
The only Conservative-run authority in Greater Manchester is under threat from a resurgent Labour Party and many people are suggesting that a change of control could be on the cards.
The Conservatives currently have a wafer-thin majority of just three seats and were hit quite badly by leader Cllr Sean Anstee’s insistence of publicly backing the unpopular GMSF back in 2017.
The Labour Party on the other hand have gone from strength to strength. The Party has capitalised on Andy Burnham’s electoral success in Greater Manchester and even held their national local-election launch Trafford leisure centre. Insiders have noted Labour activity in former no-go areas such as Altrincham, which were once seen as Tory heartlands, adding to even more speculation that the Council could turn red on election night. Definitely the Council to watch on Thursday 3 May.
Merseyside has a reputation of being a Labour stronghold. Every council in the region is a Labour-run authority, whilst Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, was a Corbyn insider when he represented Liverpool Walton in Parliament.
That said, Wirral Council has sometimes taken a different path to its Merseyside neighbours and was even governed by the Conservatives back in 2010.
Whilst it is not expected that a change of control will take place, reports on the ground suggest that there could be a small resurgence of the Liberal Democrats that may eat into Labour’s 12 seat majority. As well as this, the Conservatives will be intent on winning back Wirral West at the next General Election, a seat formerly held by Work & Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey – if they are to do this, they will need to gain some momentum in areas such as Hoylake, Frankby and Pensby.
With the Labour Party distracted by internal Momentum issues, we could see a reduced majority for Corbyn’s party next week.
Perhaps the most surprising result of the 2017 General Election in the North West was the slashing of Tim Farron’s majority from nearly 9,000 to just 777 votes. This has added renewed energy to the Conservatives locally who are looking to increase their seats on South Lakeland District Council, in which Farron’s Westmorland & Lunesdale Parliamentary Constituency sits.
The Liberal Democrats currently have control of the Council, with an impressive majority of 20 seats, but with all-up elections taking place on new electoral boundaries this could dramatically change over-night. The Conservatives will be hoping that the Westmorland result in 2017 was not just an aberration, but a sign that the Liberal Democrats local popularity is on the wane.
Whilst the Labour Party runs Stockport Council, albeit without a majority, it’s the battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that could shape how the composition of Stockport Council ends up on election night.
Traditionally, the Labour Party dominates the Stockport area of the local authority whereas the outer boroughs of Cheadle and Hazel Grove are littered with Lib Dem/Conservative marginals where both parties scrap for council seats. Ironically, Conservative victories in these areas often help Labour retain control of the Council.
Labour will therefore be hoping that their arch enemies will be able to stop any Lib Dem fight back in wards such as Stepping Hill, Bramhall and Marple North so they can keep hold of the keys to the Town Hall.
An honorary mention for Manchester City Council. Dominated by Labour for decades, it is certainly not expected that there will be any sort of political change at Manchester Town Hall, however the threat of all-up elections could throw in some strange results as election night progresses.
The Liberal Democrats are the sole opposition on the Council, with former MP John Leech flying the yellow flag in Didsbury West and are hoping to increase their representation by around seven.
Activists are saying that the prospect of all-up elections has meant that some residents in Labour heartlands are suggesting they may split their vote, using two of their three to back Labour candidates and their third to back another party. Both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have been shouting that a one-party state in Manchester is unhealthy and does not work best for local residents. Whether this message is starting to cut through will be seen next week.
Regardless, Momentum-backed candidates have already started to change the tone of Labour in Manchester, meaning the property sector could find a less welcoming political environment on the morning after the election.
- Kevin Whitmore is North region director for Built Environment Communications Group