Labour losses, attempted decapitations and Partygate: The inside track on next month's elections
We've spoken to more than a dozen sources about what might happen on May 5th
Dear Millers — today’s edition is a day late but not, as the Americans would say, a dollar short. It’s a bumper political edition, bringing you all the latest predictions, gossip and seats to watch in Greater Manchester’s local elections, which are now less than a fortnight away. Joshi and Jack have been speaking to lots of councillors and activists this week, and they have heard about:
Labour concerns that they could lose Bury and Stockport councils on May 5th.
“Partygate” causing issues for the ruling Conservatives in Bolton, where Labour may become the largest party.
Activists flooding in to save Oldham’s Labour leader from losing her seat. “The opposition parties are decapitating us,” says one source.
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Your Mill briefing
Over in Oldham, there’s “a big panic” about the prospect of losing a second council leader in the space of two years. We can reveal that local Labour figures have re-directed activists to campaign in Arooj Shah’s Chadderton South ward, which is under threat from a well-organised Conservative candidate. The local rabble-rouser Raja Miah (Mill passim) has produced leaflets attacking Shah and will be very keen to declare another victory after helping to unseat former leader Sean Fielding last year. We hear an activist has been called “paedophile protector” while out canvassing, showing that Miah’s ideas are firmly in play once again. More on that in our political piece below.
In parliament yesterday, it was a Greater Manchester MP who put the boot into Boris Johnson after the government dramatically withdrew from its attempts to delay the Prime Minister’s referral to the committee of privileges. The Conservative member for Hazel Grove William Wragg, who was elected in 2015 and has already made a name for himself as an independent-minded voice, told the Commons: “It is utterly depressing to be asked to defend the indefensible. Each time part of us withers.”
Manchester Airport's Terminal 3 will fully re-open today (having been closed during the pandemic) in order to tackle the ludicrous queues that have made the airport a laughing stock for weeks now. But why haven’t hordes of workers been beating a path to fill the airport’s many job vacancies in recent months? One answer comes from Sam Hall, a 27 year old from Lancaster who we spoke to recently: the airport “seems to be going out of their way to not hire people,” he told us. What does he mean? When he applied for a role there, he was told they could only offer shifts, without any security about hours from one month to the next. "They're going on the assumption that everyone was desperate for the job,” he says.
A top Manchester CEO has stepped down. Nitin Passi, who leads fashion brand Missguided, left as the company cut 63 jobs and hired a consulting firm to explore "strategic options" for its next steps. The brand has come under fire in recent years. A 2019 inquiry found it was one of the least environmentally sustainable fashion brands in the UK, and working conditions at Missguided's factories were also the subject of a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary. More here.
Who reads the MEN? Good question. Overwhelmingly people who don’t live in the North West, let alone Greater Manchester, according to striking new analysis. Just 17% of visitors to the newspaper’s website are from this region, with Press Gazette politely noting that “Stories written to capitalise on SEO trends and popular national stories can draw in non-local visitors to local news sites…” Quite.
Worth listening: In our latest podcast, we discuss a grim new chapter in the story of grooming in Rochdale. More men have been charged following a sweeping police investigation called Operation Lytton, which The Mill was the first to reveal back in 2020. We also round up a few other local stories and catch up with Maria, who came to Manchester from Kyiv just after the Russian invasion. Listen here on your favourite podcast app.
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Labour jitters, decapitations and Partygate: The inside track on next month's elections
By Joshi Herrmann and Jack Dulhanty
“Just fingers crossed the Prime Minister gets more fixed penalty notices, because that would help a lot,” says a nervous Labour candidate in Bury. “I don't think it's doing us many favours,” says a leading Conservative in Bolton.
Local politicians like to emphasise that local elections are about local issues, but nobody can ignore the Westminster backdrop this year. Voters will be able to pick a third of their councillors on Thursday, May 5th across Greater Manchester, and all of their councillors in Bury and Rochdale, which have “all out” elections. And while the national picture for Labour is promising, with the party ahead in the polls and profiting from the re-emergence of “Partygate”, locally quite a few Labour figures sound worried.
Labour fears going into opposition in Stockport and Bury, losing a second successive leader in Oldham, and giving up seats in Rochdale, Manchester and perhaps elsewhere too. Bolton might be a bright spot for the party, where polls suggest the Conservatives could lose a council they currently run in a minority administration. “The Labour groups all over GM are much larger than they historically have been so the only way is down, really,” says one source who has spoken to the leaders in various boroughs. “Also, with Labour having run most of the councils since 2011, they are seen as the establishment.”
Some Labour candidates also report getting blowback on the doorstep about the controversial Clean Air Zone, particularly from tradesmen and other small business owners who stand to lose out from the now-delayed policy. Plus, as one Liberal Democrat organiser points out, the “Burnham bounce” which helped Labour to hang on to some council seats last year because of the mayoral election on the day won’t be in play this year.
The “baseline” for these elections is 2018, when most of the seats up for election this time were last contested, and at that point Labour and the Conservatives were close in the polls. A big unknown is how helpful the national headwinds might be for Labour candidates in close Labour-Conservative marginal wards, including anger over Partygate and the feeling that the government is out of touch on the cost of living crisis.
This week, The Mill has spoken to more than a dozen local candidates, senior councillors and party activists across Greater Manchester to try to understand how these elections might play out, most of whom spoke off the record so they could be candid about how their campaigns are going. Here’s our 5-part briefing on the key storylines to follow.