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Business as usual for Labour as Conservatives collapse in Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester - Local Elections
By David Hopps
18 April 2024
Planning Communications and Consultation
local elections

The importance of the north of England in political and policy discourse has heightened in recent years (see Northern Powerhouse, Red Wall or Levelling Up), as has its economic influence on the UK as a whole. The north’s beating heart – though some would dispute this – is the sprawling city region of Greater Manchester (colloquially known as GM in political circles).  One only needs to catch a glimpse at Manchester’s city centre skyline to see the change, growth and investment that has occurred in recent times. 

The Labour Party dominates at all levels, running nine of the ten constituent authorities, with only Stockport preventing a full house. The status quo is almost certain to continue, at least until the party gets into national government and has to make the unpopular decisions that oppositions can avoid.  

Centre stage is Labour’s ‘King of the North’, Andy Burnham, who will be running for a third term as Mayor of Greater Manchester, having been in post since 2017. He faces no serious challenge to his dominance and is likely to be re-elected comfortably, possibly beating his 67% share of the vote achieved in 2021. 

But Greater Manchester is not a homogenous region, whether in terms of identity, geography, demographics, or politics. Not every community flies the red flag for Labour, and the Tories have historically done well in certain communities – running Bolton and Trafford – where I was a councillor – in recent times and, seeing the election of nine MPs at the last general election. The Lib Dems dominate in Stockport and are likely to continue to deprive Labour of their final piece in the GM jigsaw.    

Beyond who holds which council, an interesting below-the-surface factor this year will be how far the Tory vote falls and how many/few Conservative councillors are elected across the region given their dire national polling. The Party was wiped out in Stockport last year with little prospect of a return to that town hall any time soon.  

Conservatives in their once flagship borough of Trafford may also be glad elections are only taking place for a third of seats this year, as their councillors are under serious threat in the few remaining blue wards. In line with other middle class metropolitan areas across the country (see Blue Wall), the party in Trafford has haemorrhaged councillors over the past six years to Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens. 

A Conservative collapse across GM could see the tide firmly turning in those places that elected a Tory MP in 2019 as voters either switch parties or stay at home out of delusion, indifference, or disgust. Whether the much-vaunted exodus of Tories to Reform UK plays out in this set of local elections remains to be seen, and as the party is not yet an organised political machine at local level, I’d expect apathy to win the day with the consequence of poor voter turnout across the board.  

Away from the main players, the smaller parties have won a smattering of wards in recent years, including independents and Greens. Expect their votes to grow further on the back of general voter discontent with the mainstream. Of particular interest is the borough of Rochdale where George Galloway’s Workers Party is fielding a large slate of candidates. Can lesser-known local contenders maintain the momentum of Galloway’s shock by election win in February. Such an advance at local level would come at the expense of Labour and could worry MPs in similar-demographic seats across the country. 

As long as this opposition remains dispersed, however, it will remain business as usual for those who hold the strings of power in Greater Manchester.