NOT ABOUT BREXIT.
Brexit has overshadowed every other political activity in the last 12 months, but in three weeks time a series of important elections in the North will remind us there are other things to concentrate on apart from Europe.
City Region mayors will be elected in the Liverpool City and Greater Manchester regions, there is a parliamentary by election in Gorton and full council elections in North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Derbyshire and the key contest for Lancashire.
BATTLE FOR THE RED ROSE COUNTY.
Lancashire had been a Labour fiefdom for 28 years until 2009 when the growing unpopularity of Labour under Gordon Brown saw the Conservatives take control under the colourful leadership of Geoff Driver. The former Preston Council Chief Executive enjoyed four years in office before narrowly losing out to Labour, supported by the Lib Dems in 2013.
Many expected Driver to be deposed as Tory group leader but resilience is in this politician’s DNA. Back in the 1990s as Chief Executive of Preston he had a bitter clash with the then leader of the council Valerie Wise. After losing out to Labour in 2013, Driver was subject to a two year investigation by Lancashire police into the council’s One Connect venture with BT. The investigation into his role was eventually dropped, he had a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission upheld and is now calling for the “removal” of Lancashire Chief Constable Steve Finnigan as the cost of the probe nears £2m.
In the campaign, Lancashire Conservatives are attacking Labour for their cuts in services as being too harsh. This has attracted a sharp response from the ruling party leader Jeni Mein who points to the massive cut in government grant over the last few years.
Mein has done a sound job in very difficult circumstances and in the mid-term of a Tory government should be looking to gain an overall majority for Labour. “Should” is the operative word because Mein is being constantly let down by party infighting at Westminster. A row over Ken Livingstone’s alleged anti-Semitism is just what you need when you are trying to win the marginal wards that litter the county.
Mein might be helped by an anticipated revival of the Liberal Democrats in local government this time around. Their distinctive stand on a second EU referendum and fading memories of their involvement in the Coalition could make them significant players when the votes are counted at County Hall on May 5th. That said the Conservatives lost votes to UKIP in 2013 and UKIP’s support is set to fade at these elections.
Labour has been trying to focus voters’ attention on their policies in recent days but one leading pollster is forecasting the worst performance by an opposition party since 1985, excluding General Election years. Apart from Lancashire, Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in Cumbria where there is a Lab/Lib Dem coalition and Derbyshire will be watched closely.
Anything other than a Labour victory in the Gorton by election would be a total disaster, although it is worth recalling that in the depths of Harold Wilson’s unpopularity in 1967, the Conservatives reduced Labour’s majority to 557.