Suspensions and shouting matches outside TV studios was not an ideal way for Labour to prepare for next week’s local elections. They were already going to find gaining seats difficult due to the election cycle discussed below. The anti semitism issue is important for Labour to sort out but it is also part of the internal campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.
With all this said, next week’s electrions will be no easy ride for the Conservatives.
TORIES IN TROUBLE.
It was always going to be a difficult election for the Conservatives. They are facing their first Town Hall elections as the sole governing party since 1997. They are not only distracted by the EU Referendum but are also very split on the issue unlike any other party. The run up to these elections has been less than smooth with the Budget unravelling, Iain Duncan Smith resigning and a growing row over forcing all schools to become academies.
The latter issue is particularly relevant to these local elections. There was a time when education was one of the main battlegrounds between the parties because Town Hall influence in the running of schools was strong. Now the government is hell bent on side lining councillors as it moves towards creating academies in all schools. Not surprisingly many Conservative councillors have reacted angrily to this implied criticism of their role in many high performing schools. The move is hardly likely to raise morale amongst Tories as they fight the local elections.
LABOUR AT ITS PEAK.
Labour has been gaining ground at every local election since the Coalition government came into office in 2010. The last time these seats were contested in 2012, Ed Miliband did particularly well.
Labour controls virtually all the urban councils across the North from the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester to South and West Yorkshire. The three councils running down the Pennines (Pendle, Calderdale and Kirklees) divide these two areas and are under no one party control. However Labour has them in its sights.
Labour has all the councillors in Manchester(in the interests of democracy and scruitiny it would be handy if some Greens could be elected) and 80 of the 90 councillors in Liverpool. It has gained control of all the district councils in southern Lancashire from Burnley and Rossendale to West Lancashire.
All this means that further gains are going to be difficult for Labour, although they will hope not to fall back.
The Coalition years proved devastating for the Lib Dems who are now reduced to defending their heartland in the South Lakes and trying to hold on to minority control in Stockport.
It will be Tim Farron’s first test as party leader. He was elected over Norman Lamb because it was felt he was better placed to rebuild the party through its activist base. Now comes the test. The Lib Dems 6% poll rating has hardly flickered since the General Election but Farron claims they have been making gains in the regular by elections that take place each week without much publicity. Free from governing with the Tories, now is the time the tide must turn for the Lib Dems.
UKIP has generally made slow progress in getting elected to northern councils in recent years, with the exception of Rotherham where the child abuse scandal has dealt a blow to Labour. They have often got substantial votes in wards but fell victim to the voting system. This year they have bigger fish to fry in the EU referendum and are not expected to make a big impression, particularly in the North West.
Next Thursday a third of the seats on the metropolitan councils of Merseyside, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire are up for election.
All the seats are up for election in Knowsley and in the unitary authority of Warrington due to new ward boundaries. A third of the councillors on the unitary councils of Blackburn with Darwen and Halton are up for election.
A few shire district councils have a third of their seats up for election. They are Burnley, Chorley, Craven, Harrogate, Hyndburn, South Lakeland, Rossendale and West Lancashire.
Few councils will change hands. The Conservatives will be keen to cling on to their slim majority on their only metropolitan council of Trafford and if they are to make gains, these are most likely in Rossendale and possibly West Lancashire.
Labour will battle for Trafford too but are also targeting Pendle, Calderdale and Kirklees whilst the Lib Dems would like to edge towards the 31 mark needed for control of Stockport. They are currently on 26.
Jo Anderson is expected to defeat the challenge of six other candidates to win a second term as elected mayor of Liverpool. The Lib Dems and Conservatives have good candidates in veteran Richard Kemp and charismatic businessman Tony Caldeira respectively but Anderson won in 2012 with nearly 60% of the vote. He doesn’t plan to stay long as he wants to contest the Liverpool City Region elected mayor post next year, but other Labour figures may want to be nominated for that role too.
In Salford Labour’s Paul Dennett will take over from the retiring Ian Stewart.