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By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

The storm before the storm

Check out Jim's comprehensive preview of next week's local elections. While the Conservatives face hundreds of losses, the Gaza crisis poses problems for Labour in Lancashire and Rochdale.

Next week’s local elections are likely to provide the Conservative Party with a taste of things to come later in the year.

When these seats were last contested in 2021, the Tories did well in the local polls and took the Hartlepool by election. Sir Keir Starmer contemplated resigning just one year into the job. So, the Conservatives are defending nearly a thousand seats with opinion polls putting them twenty points behind Labour.

Also, this cycle of elections is mainly in urban areas. The mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region are up for election. A third of the metropolitan districts also, with the notable exception of Liverpool (and Wirral). They have gone on to four year all out cycles.

Eight district councils in Lancashire have elections and Warrington unitary authority have an all out poll.

LANCASHIRE

Lancashire looks to be the most interesting area this time. There is a parliamentary by election in Blackpool South where the Tory MP Scott Benton quit after breaking lobbying rules. The Conservative cause in that part of Lancashire won’t be helped by the fact that the MP in the neighbouring seat of Blackpool North, Paul Maynard is under investigation by the parliamentary expenses watchdog and the next door Fylde MP, Mark Menzies, has left the Conservative Party after he allegedly used party funds to pay off “bad people” who had locked him in a flat.

With a Tory majority of just 4,000, expect another Labour gain.

Whilst Labour might relish this Tory sleaze, it is not going to be all plain sailing for them in the Red Rose County. The Gaza issue has caused a large number of the party’s councillors to quit, all twenty of them in the case of Pendle. They now have the leadership of the council, sharing power with the Lib Dems.

There were eleven resignations in Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen will also see a number of ex Labour councillors standing in predominantly Asian wards.

Labour is hoping to take control of Hyndburn and Rossendale (where there is an all out election) ahead of ousting the Tory MPs in those constituencies at the General Election.

GREATER MANCHESTER

It was always going to be a shoo-in for Andy Burnham, seeking a third term as mayor of Greater Manchester. He was further assisted by his Tory opponent defecting to Reform. He is certainly seen as “Mr Manchester” which was the intention of those that wanted identifiable civic leaders. He has regulated the buses, but critics feel he could have achieved more. The mayor of Salford, Paul Dennett, will also be re-elected.

Labour will be seeking full control of Bolton Council but face a threat in Rochdale where George Galloway’s Workers Party is fielding candidates in many wards.

The Lib Dems are trailing Reform in the opinion polls, and I’m told will hardly be working the north at all at the General Election. The only council where they hold sway is Stockport where they need three gains for overall control but might find it difficult.

LIVERPOOL CITY REGION

With no elections in Liverpool and Wirral and Labour safely in charge of St Helens, Knowsley and Sefton, the main thing to note will be the election for the last time of Steve Rotheram as mayor of the city region. He says he wants just one more term to realise his transport and green agenda issues.

CHESHIRE

Labour is already in charge of Warrington where an all out election will confirm their control of a town that continues to attract good inward investment because of its location and has big plans for the regeneration of the Bank Quay station area.

CONCLUSION

Local government is under huge financial pressure. The Tories will pay the electoral price for years of cuts but its not clear if the Labour councillors elected on Thursday will be able to do much about it in the short term.

Don’t forget your ID when going to the polling station!

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