The restless world of politics moves on. With the elections and Queen’s Speech out of the way, it is time to look to the political future of the North West after a busy week.
Two issues stand out. Following Labour’s good night in the district elections in Lancashire, the battle is already underway for the biggest prize of all, control of Lancashire County Council. Next year, it will be the only show in town in our patch, but expect the colourful leader of Lancashire, Geoff Driver, to put up a tough fight.
In the cities Joe Anderson is the unlikely pin up boy of the Tories having delivered an elected mayor whereas Manchester has not played ball. Already Cities Minister Greg Clarke is talking about giving the elected mayor transport powers although it would have to be with the agreement of the other councils on Merseyside. Good luck with that Joe.
With most cities joining Manchester in a no vote, it must have been a distinct possibility that Liverpool would have given a thumbs down too. So Joe Anderson’s move to get the council to bypass the referendum retains the whiff of a coup.
What will matter in the long term is if the handful of elected mayoral cities like Middlesborough, Bristol and Liverpool really do benefit from their Downing Street meetings with David Cameron or if they come to look like odd experiments in Town Hall governance that have done no better than the refusniks like Manchester and Birmingham.
There is speculation that the government is still toying with the idea of city region mayors if people want it. They should have legislated for that in the first place giving the conurbations real power. Instead they were vague on the powers of mayors and resorted to referendums which are not an effective way to make constitutional change. People don’t care enough about such issues and just use them to give the government a kicking.
Before we finish with mayors it will be worth keeping an eye on Salford where Ian Stewart was elected. He’ll be joining Joe Anderson on trips to Downing Street but he’s going to have to work hard to win the confidence of officers of the council. There’s also the question of his relations with John Merry, the former council leader who Stewart beat for the post.
Now let’s look at the council results in more detail.
A good night for Labour particularly in Blackburn with Darwen where they now hold nearly three quarters of the seats. A few years ago they lost power to a mixture of Tories, Lib Dems and For Darwen independents. The latter have disappeared completely, perhaps Darwen feels more comfortable about its relationship with Blackburn these days.
Labour returned to power in Burnley after a decade when first the British National Party and then the Lib Dems challenged its supremacy. The fascists are now off the council completely. The result must be worrying for the town’s Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwhistle.
Labour also held Hyndburn and gained Rossendale and Chorley where six years ago David Cameron arrived by helicopter to celebrate the Tory triumph.
The Conservatives held off the Labour challenge in West Lancashire but only have a two seat majority over the Labour Party led by the experienced John Fillis.
The only joy for the Liberal Democrats in Lancashire is that they hold the balance of power in Pendle.
GREATER MANCHESTER ELECTIONS
It really was a bad night for the Lib Dems here. Another wipe out in Manchester means they have lost 24 councillors in two years and put a huge question mark under the future of John Leech as MP for Withington.
In Rochdale, once the home of Liberal success under Cyril Smith, internal divisions and the national tide has reduced the party to just 5 councillors on the authority.
The Lib Dems lost their leader in Stockport but remain the largest party largely because of the continuing poor performance of the Conservatives in the leafy suburbs that should be Tory territory. For the party not to be able to take advantage of the Lib Dems at this time should be a cause for a party inquiry.
The whole of Merseyside is now in full Labour control for the first time. The party has all the seats on Knowsley,in St Helens the frustrated Lib Dem leader Brian Spencer was led from the counting hall by the police and in Liverpool the party lost a further 9 seats including group leader Paula Keaveney.
But the most spectacular result was in Sefton where never before have Labour had full control. Their victory in genteel Blundellsands summed up a night of triumph.
Political stability has come to Wirral with a Labour majority of eight. With no elections in 2013 the new Labour leader, Phil Davies, has two years to sort out the running of the troubled authority.
So the Coalition has hit the mid term blues. As ever the economy will dictate whether Cameron and Clegg can recover by 2015. Developments in France, Greece and Spain suggest that is far from certain.