A whirlwind tour of the topics affecting this year's political landscape in Greater Manchester
In exactly one week, schools, community centres and youth groups will dust off their trestle tables and welcome a slow trickle of voters.
Local elections are not as glam or hyped by the media as general elections. They are, however, a chance for people to have a real effect in their communities. The emergence of hyper-local parties and independent candidates means the political landscape will shift even further from the old red v blue paradigm and no doubt will be taken as important data for wonks to analyse ahead of the next (general) election.
Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson came to lend a bit of political glitz and brandish a football shirt
With sexism, Angela Rayner’s legs and porn in parliament all making the headlines recently it’s worth noting that the Women’s Equality Party are running candidates in Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Trafford and Tameside, with Heaton North’s Diane Coffey promising to “to shake the incumbent pale, stale males out of their complacency.” Nationally, two-thirds of councillors are men yet women are more likely to be council service users and are also disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis.
Some of the larger issues we are seeing may have the force to cancel each other out. On the one hand, Partygate is still making itself felt for Conservative candidates after Greater Manchester bore what many felt was a disproportionately heavy burden during lockdowns, in contrast to the more lighthearted approach seen in Westminster. The cost of living crisis is also cutting a swathe through voters who are dealing with price rises on all fronts. While nationally that will strongly affect the Conservatives, with as many as 800 council seats predicted to be lost, the fact that Labour is seen as "the man" in Greater Manchester means that they will also have to soak up some of the voters' rage on this issue.
Perhaps the biggest local topic to affect voting will be the Clean Air Zone controversy. After last year’s “Burnham Bounce”, this year might see the “Burnham Bomb” as voters express their anger about the CAZ, even though the charge has into yet come into force. A new version of the Clean Air Plan will be delivered in July, but even if the charges are dropped it has done a huge amount of damage to Burnham's political capital locally. It is notable that he has not been seen much on the campaign trail this year, though he did appear with candidates Luke Savage in Didsbury West and Holly McCormack in Reddish South.
In Manchester, Ancoats and Beswick continues to make political sparks fly. You might recall all sorts of bad feeling regarding ex-Labour councillor Marcia Hutchinson, who published her resignation letter online, saying she endured "more racism and bullying in my five years in the Labour Party than the rest of my life combined."
As the campaign to become her replacement hotted up, it emerged that Ms Hutchinson had further complaints to make regarding the selection process for her replacement, implicating current candidate Irene Robinson, who was running the shortlisting process.
Also noteworthy in Ancoats - Chris Northwood, running for the Liberal Democrats, will be hoping to become Manchester's first trans counsellor (as will Kobe Bibbon in Longsight, also a Lib Dem candidate). If either (or both) candidate wins her ward she will join Alan Good in shoring up the Lib Dems encroachment into what is otherwise one of the most monolithic Labour councils in the country.
Piccadilly ward gives Ancoats a run for its money in the drama stakes as Conservative candidate Alexander Bramham managed to get himself off his party slate by tweeting imagery that equated the “progress” flag, which represents trans, intersex and people of colour with the Nazi flag. His (now-ex) partner also tweeted an image of a swastika picked out in trans colours around the same time, although Bramham has said he does not endorse this tweet. LGBTCons, the official Conservative group for LGBTQ+ members tweeted: “We are disgusted and sickened to see a symbol of hate being used to attack the trans community. Whilst we cannot control central party membership, we can make it clear this will not be tolerated and in no way represents the views of this group. We have raised this with CCHQ.” Mr Bramham will now run as an independent.
Meanwhile, outspoken Lib Dems boss John Leech is up for re-election in Didsbury West, with a snazzy campaign video celebrating his 25 years as councillor and sometime MP, plus a ringing endorsement from his boss Tim Farron, who says: "I’ve been friends with John Leech for nearly 20 years. He’s been my colleague, mentor, friend, and to be honest, a bit of a hero."
Over in Woodhouse Park, the Greens will be hoping that Astrid Johnson will soon be able to team up with their only Manchester representative Rob Nunney, despite a minor stir about whether she actually lives in the ward. Note: many councillors (from all parties) don't actually live in the ward they represent.
Bury is in an “all-out” election, which means all 51 seats in the borough’s 17 wards are up for grabs. It's attracted the big guns as both Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson came to lend a bit of political glitz and brandish a football shirt. Perhaps the defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakefield from Tory to Labour has injected a bit of fizz into proceedings.
New independent party Radcliffe First are running a total of nine candidates between Radcliffe East, Radcliffe West and Radcliffe North & Ainsworth, stating: "We are involved in the community not to boost our political careers but simply because we care about Radcliffe and want to make a difference." If they win enough seats they could be in the position of deciding which party should lead the council.
Bolton is currently run by the Conservatives, though their leader Martyn Cox has, on occasion, shown himself to be an ally of Andy Burnham's in his position as the only lead member of the GMCA who is not in the Labour party. Nevertheless, Labour will be hoping to wrest Bolton from the Tories, with a current count of 22 Conservatives, with 17 for Labour. Candidates from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Bolton for Change will field candidates in every possible ward. Farnworth and Kearsley First, Horwich and Blackrod First, Little Lever and Darcy Lever First, One Kearsley and Westhoughton First are the hyper-local parties to watch in this keenly fought election.
Stockport is Greater Manchester’s most volatile council as it is currently run by Labour, despite the Lib Dems emerging as the largest group at last year’s local elections. Instead, the eight Conservative councillors supported Labour in maintaining Elise Wilson as leader by 33 votes to 28, though it is usual for the leader to be elected from the majority party. Cllr Wilson, recently seen impressing with her French at an international strategy launch, currently holds the GMCA economic portfolio and is a close ally of the mayor.
In Salford, it will be interesting to see whether Andrew Walters retains his position after being first elected by the Kelsall & Broughton ward last year. Andrew was elected as the only Lib Dem councillor in Salford but decided to quit the party and stand as an independent, describing their parting as “amicable”.
Cllr Walters was the only Lib Dem on Salford council so the party will be hoping their new candidate James Twells will take his place. Interestingly, Andrew Walters has given his support to Labour’s John Merry, who is up for re-election. Cllr Merry is currently the Deputy Mayor and was previously leader of Salford Council.
Oldham's political situation is notoriously febrile. Hyper-locals Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth (POOS) and the Failsworth Independent Party join Northern Heart UK, National Housing Party UK and Alliance for Democracy and Freedom on the right of politics there. Leader Arooj Shah's Chadderton South seat is up for re-election, and if she loses to her Tory rival this would set the Labour party up badly for next year's all-out election, the dynamics of which favour minority parties and independents.
Tameside's political situation is in many ways the opposite of Oldham's, with many wards running either a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives or a three-way competition between Labour, Conservatives and the Greens. Notable exceptions are a Reform candidate in Denton North East and the Women's Equality Party in Mossley, widening the field to four in each of those wards.
Over in Trafford, unassuming Timperley will see most of the action. Conservative leader Nathan Evans (whose wife Laura ran for mayor last year) will be up for reelection in this ward. Evans has been a vocal critic of Andy Burnham and Trafford leader Andrew Western (both Labour), and the CAZ has been one of his favourite talking points. If the Greens pick up any more seats (potentially in Hale) this might not have been a favoured topic. Labour has steadily picked up seats over the last few years, but the Lib Dems and Greens have also slowly been adding to their count and the Tories will surely be hoping that the smaller parties start nibble away at the Lab majority.
The Conservatives' prospects are also not looking good in Rochdale, and while the CAZ argument may depress Labour's chances too, they are expected to remain the strongest party in this all-out election. Friction comes from the Middleton Independents Party (MIPS) who are running 15 candidates and so are in with a shot of hoovering up seats, while the Lib Dems will also look to increase their seats.
Wigan is notable for its healthy sprinkling of independent candidates and for possessing, in Hindley ward, one of UKIP's only local election candidates in Jordan Gaskell, who at 19 years old is potentially the youngest candidate standing in Greater Manchester.
Whether you're in Heaton North or Reddish South, Hale or Hindley, your vote counts now more than ever.
Main image: Trafford Pride/Jason Lock
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