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By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

Evidence of momentum

Jim gives a comprehensive preview of the big round of local elections coming up next month. He identifies the key contests in the North West and the prospects for the political parties 18 months from a General Election.

That is what Labour need in next month’s local elections in the North West. Their big opinion poll lead has been slipping a little. They need evidence from real votes that they are on track for a good General Election result next year.

LAST TIME

It is a big round of local elections, involving voters in rural Tory heartlands as well as the big cities. When these wards were last contested the political landscape was completely different. The Brexit crisis was at its height. We should have left the EU just before polling day but Prime Minister Theresa May got an extension while she wrestled with the ultra Brexiteers. After losing 1,300, she was gone in the summer.

Jeremy Corbyn’s tepid stand on EU membership resulted in Labour losing wards in 2019 as well, whilst the beneficiaries were the Lib Dems, beginning to recover from the taint of Coalition. The Greens had a good result too but didn’t do as well as Independents who put on 600 seats across the country. It meant they actually shared power in places like Cheshire East.

THE PROSPECTS

The Conservatives are defending their rural district councils and would love to keep their losses under the thousand marks. Last autumn these elections were heading for the sort of total Tory meltdown experienced by John Major in the mid-nineties, but Rishi Sunak has stabilised his party. However, the persistence of inflation and the pressure on people’s living standards surely mean a drubbing at the polls.

There has been a lot of speculation that the new requirement to produce proof of identity at the polling station will help mitigate Tory losses. Lib Dems and Labour have opposed the move.

Labour’s thirteen years in opposition has given them a strong local government base but they need to do even better, winning normally safe Tory wards to show that they can overturn that big Conservative parliamentary majority next year.

The Lib Dems have the chance to target the soft Tory vote in many of the 3,300 seats the Conservatives are defending. They have been invisible, apart from a couple of by election spectaculars, and need to renew their reputation as a party to vote for at a local level.

The Greens are a growing party in places like Lancaster and need to capitalise on the increasing awareness of environmental issues.

THE BATTLEGROUND

A significant number of major councils have new ward boundaries and are holding all out elections which can accelerate political change. Liverpool is one of them and I will be looking at that city next week.

In Greater Manchester, five districts have full elections. The most significant are Bolton and Stockport. The former is arguably the most vital contest for Labour on May 4th. If they don’t gain enough wards to remove the minority Conservative administration, then it will be a real blow for Keir Starmer. In Stockport, Labour needs to reclaim the lead role they had until last year, Mark Hunter’s Liberal Democrats should not be underestimated.

Full control of Wirral Council is also essential for Labour.

In rural Northwest all out elections can Labour end the 20 year overall control of the Tories in Fylde and Ribble Valley and take full control in West Lancashire and South Ribble? Lancaster is always a fascinating contest. Labour will look to strengthen their position as the largest party, but they are just ahead of the Greens with five other parties having significant representation on the council.

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