Who runs Greater Manchester? Your bumper guide to the winners and losers
'Brexit politics isn't going anywhere. It's still an extraordinarily powerful predictor of how people are behaving politically'
Dear Millers — we suspected that what you wanted to do on your Sunday afternoon was read a bumper newsletter about the election results in Greater Manchester packed with 2,500 words and endless numbers, graphs, graphics and expert analysis. So here it is!
Scroll down to see who now runs your local area with our graphical council chambers for each borough.
Here are the top lines:
Andy Burnham has won a second term as mayor, increasing his vote share from 63% in 2017 to 67% this time.
Labour is no longer the largest party in Stockport, after losing a seat to the Greens there, meaning that the Lib Dems now have the most seats.
The Conservatives and Labour fought each other to a virtual stalemate across GM, with Tory gains in places like Bolton, Oldham and Bury and Labour adding seats in Trafford and Salford.
Burnham picked up 473,024 votes in the mayoral race, ahead of the Conservatives' Laura Evans on 113,753. The Green candidate Melanie Horrocks came third, ahead of Simon Lepori from the Lib Dems.
Almost breaking down in tears during his acceptance speech as he thanked his family, Burnham said he would continue to fight for local interests. "Where the government gets it right and treats us fairly I will work with them but where they don't I will challenge them as forcefully as I can," he said. "Greater Manchester expects nothing less."
He said the result was a sign that people wanted more powers in the regions and that Whitehall should listen. “This vote sends a clear message to all Westminster parties, people are buying into English devolution,” he told a small audience of journalists, politicians and his family at the Manchester Central conference centre.
Burnham told reporters that he won all of the so-called “red wall” seats in Greater Manchester — referring to seats in places like Leigh, Bury and Bolton — burnishing his claims to be able to reach out to the kinds of voters that Labour has lost in large numbers to the Conservatives.
He said the party has “lost an emotional connection with parts of the country that is going to take a lot of work to get back." Asked about whether he might lead the party, he told journalists: "I'm not just going to put myself forward unless they [Labour] needed me one day in the future, but we're not at that day.”
Who now runs Greater Manchester?
Burnham’s win was the most high profile result in the local elections, but there were plenty of subplots worth following in the council polls. Labour is still the dominant party across Greater Manchester (it has around 70% of the council seats), but it lost seats to the Conservatives in some Brexit-leaning wards — for example in Oldham and Bolton — while picking up extra seats in wealthier areas, notably in Trafford where it gained four.
The Liberal Democrats are now the largest party in Stockport and will try to form a minority administration to run the borough. And in Oldham, the council’s leader Sean Fielding lost his seat in a shock result, after the Failsworth Independent Party picked up two seats from Labour. Both wards voted heavily for Brexit, pointing to a trend that we’ve seen across the city region: that while local issues can be influential in some seats, bigger demographic factors that emerged during the EU referendum are continuing to be highly relevant.
The most important of those factors is education. Politics professor Robert Ford, who teaches at the University of Manchester, says there is a “staggeringly strong relationship” in this set of election results between the number of voters who have had higher education and how the area voted, just as there was during the Brexit vote. “The more graduates you have, the better Labour does,” he told The Mill. During the BBC’s coverage, analyst Sir John Curtice estimated that areas with a higher proportion of people with no qualifications “witnessed a swing of around ten points towards the Conservatives.”
“Until yesterday, we didn't know if the Brexit divide would continue in our politics,” says Ford, who is the co-author of Brexitland, a great new book explaining the importance of demographics in how our politics is changing. “We know now: Brexit politics isn't going anywhere. It's still an extraordinarily powerful predictor of how people are behaving politically.”
Ford told The Mill:
Labour are doing better in places that are younger and have more graduates. Didsbury West went back to Labour from the Lib Dems, for example. And then you've got places like Bolton and Bury that are older and whiter and have more voters with few or no formal qualifications, and they are going to the Conservatives.
The Green Party made progress, picking up a seat from Labour in Stockport and winning its first seat on Manchester City Council since 2008 in Wythenshawe. Ford says the emergence of the Greens as a viable party of local protest was one of the under-reported themes of these elections. “The Greens in many places, in particular places with lots of graduates, seem to be supplanting the Liberal Democrats,” Ford told The Mill. “The Lib Dems are treading water.”
For more detail on who controls each part of Greater Manchester, see our run-down of the boroughs below, with reporting by Tom Taylor and Andrew Dowdeswell. The graphics we’ve made show how varied politics is across the city region, from Labour’s super-stronghold in Manchester to Bolton, where the Conservatives are the biggest party.
And just quickly — a note on the data. There are a few discrepancies between the information released by the councils and the numbers published by the BBC, Press Association and local papers. Plus, there are seats that were vacant before or have changed boundaries. We’ve tried our best to make the best possible comparison with 2019 numbers in every borough, and we’ve used the BBC numbers as the key source for most councils, except when we could spot obvious errors.
Bolton: Conservatives the largest party after gains
The Tories picked up four seats in Bolton, making them the largest party, having previously run the borough in a coalition with a string of independents.
Conservative leader David Greenhalgh said after the count: "I'm happy, clearly it looks like it's been a great day for Conservatives across the country, but for us to become the largest party in Bolton I feel is a real achievement.”
The Bolton News reports:
The Tories won two vacant seats in Westhoughton North and Astley Bridge as well as taking a seat off the Liberal Democrats in Breightmet. The party was also a winner in Little Lever and Darcy Lever, making a gain from UKIP.
Labour was expecting heavier losses in Bolton after its disastrous performance there during the last General Election, and will be grateful they are still in touching distance for the next local elections.
Bury: Tories frustrated by ‘Burnham effect’
Labour still has a majority in Bury, but only just, as expected Conservative gains in the borough failed to materialise and the overall composition of the council didn’t change much.
Reaction: “I think there’s very much been a Burnham-effect down here,” said Conservative MP Christian Wakeford after the counts. “That has certainly cost us one seat and possibly even more.”
Another big development was the success of local party Radcliffe First. The party’s founder said “overpromising and underdelivering” on local regeneration was driving his vote. The MEN reports:
The party boosted its tally of seats by two, stealing them from Labour in Radcliffe East and Radcliffe West, the latter will now be represented by one of the youngest councillors, Gareth Staples-Jones, at just 24-years-old.
Manchester: Labour’s retains its dominance
If the term “red wall” is applicable anywhere in British politics right now, it is in Manchester, where Labour controls 98% of seats.
Yellow setback: It was a poor election for the Lib Dems, losing one of their two council members in Didsbury West to Labour.
The party’s leader John Leech also seemed to partly blame the Burnham-effect: “It’s been a very disappointing day. We were damaged by a significantly higher turnout for the Greater Manchester mayoral elections.”
The council leader Sir Richard Leese stuck the knife in after the results came out, saying: “Technically we don’t have a Lib Dem opposition anymore as there’s only one and one Green, so there isn’t an opposition group anymore.”
The Greens have their first Manchester councillor since 2008 after Rob Nunney took the Woodhouse Park seat in Wythenshawe from Labour. In a bit of Manchester that doesn’t have the typical Green party demographics, his win shows how very hands-on community work can get someone elected. Nunney organises litter picks and runs petitions to ma ke local roads safer.
Looking forward: The Greens could prove to be an annoyance to the ruling Labour group on the city council. “The council is really top-down, really autocratic,” Green campaigner Alison Hawdale told The Mill.
Oldham: Tory gains as council leader loses his seat
Labour had an unexpectedly bad showing in Oldham, losing six wards in total: three to the Conservatives, one to the Lib Dems and two to a hyperlocal independent group in Failsworth. Both the Failsworth wards and all the ones they lost to the Conservatives were places that voted for Brexit.
The shock of the night came when the Labour leader of the council Sean Fielding lost his race to the Failsworth Independent Party. Fielding is considered a rising star of Labour politics in Greater Manchester, having become the leader of the council aged 28, and he is tipped to be an MP in future.
The man who beat him, Mark Wilkinson, told The Mill:
We’re absolutely over the moon to be honest. It was always going to be difficult going up against the Oldham council leader, but sometimes a change is needed.
Rochdale: Labour’s dominance unchanged
Not much to report here. No wards changed hands in Rochdale meaning that Labour will keep their sizeable majority in the borough.
False alarm: There was a brief moment where North Middleton looked like an interesting ward as both the Conservatives and Labour had the same number of votes, but this turned out to be a typo on the council website.
Salford: Mayor says ‘we're bucking the trend’
Labour picked up two seats in Salford and won the mayoralty again handsomely, with Paul Dennett scooping 59% of the vote (Salford has a directly elected mayor rather than a regular council leader).
The Local Demoracy Reporter in Salford quoted Dennett saying:
When you look at what's happening here in Salford compared to what's happening nationally, we're bucking the trend. And you've got to ask yourself why. It's because of the hard work of many Labour Party councillors and many Labour Party members. But it's also the visionary proposition we've made to the electorate here on housing, on the economy, what we're doing on the green infrastructure of the city.
Labour picked up a surprise seat in Worsley and Westwood Park, a ward that (in its previous incarnation as Worsley) voted to remain in the EU.
Stockport: Lib Dems overtake Labour as largest party
The Lib Dems became the largest party in Stockport albeit by just one councillor. The party’s leader Mark Hunter is a former MP and government whip in the coalition years, and he could prove to be an annoying companion for the mostly Labour council leaders who run Greater Manchester alongside Andy Burnham.
Hunter told The Mill:
We knew we had a chance and we prepared for it. We’re ready, willing and able to form a new administration. There were gains and losses for all parties last night, I’m disappointed to have lost a couple of first-class colleagues in Stepping Hill and Hazel Grove, but obviously delighted by some of our other results.
Key wards changing hands included: Marple South and Offerton gained by the Lib Dems; Stepping Hill gained by Labour and Hazel Grove gained by the Conservatives.
Gary Lawson has become the first Green Party councillor in Stockport after winning Reddish South by over 500 votes. Lawson, who has been a long-time campaigner in the area, told us the race came down to “practical issues in the ward and a feeling of being neglected and left behind compared with other parts of Stockport.”
Tameside: Conservatives take one seat and push others close
Only one seat changed hands in Tameside, with Ashton Hurst passing from Labour to the Conservatives.
The borough is one of the most Labour-dominated local authorities in Greater Manchester, but some of the results show that they an expect more of a challenge from Tory candidates in future. The MEN reports:
It was the Conservative Party that posed the biggest threat to Labour throughout the borough - missing out by just 13 votes in Dukinfield Stalybridge and 52 votes in Hyde Godley.
Trafford: Labour’s ‘only good news story in the country’
Labour made strong gains in Trafford, a borough where the Conservatives had a majority three years ago. It’s the highest number of seats the party has ever had in the borough.
Labour picked up four seats, including from the Conservatives in Ashton on Mersey, Davyhulme East and Davyhulme West.
They could have got a fifth but missed out by just 19 votes in Brooklands.
Labour leader Andrew Western said: "In what has been a bad night for Labour nationally, we'll be the only good news story in the country."
Get in touch: What’s changing the political dynamic in Trafford? It’s an interesting story we would like to look into. Get in touch with us by hitting reply to this email.
Wigan: No change as Labour hangs on to seats
Like Match of the Day, we have left the least thrilling contest to last. No seats changed hands in Wigan, which came as a relief to Labour given the national context and how close some of their seats turned out to be.
The Wigan Post reports:
The party’s closest shave in the seats it was holding came in Leigh South, where Kevin Anderson got over the finishing line with 1,695 votes compared to 1,423 for his Conservative challenger Joshua Yates.
And Labour very nearly grabbed the Hindley Green seat of long-serving independent Bob Brierley, whose continued place in the chamber was eventually secured by just eight votes following a nail-biting recount.