England’s local elections 2019: previewing Liverpool and Wirral

30 April 2019

Wirral Borough Council Preview

While the news of Brexit fills the air, it can be easily be forgotten that we are rapidly approaching Local Elections on May 2nd.

Wirral Council in recent years, like many Metropolitan Boroughs, has seen Labour dominant, with the Party holding all its seats back in May 2018, maintaining the 39 it had going into that election. However, division in the local Labour Party has seen a Wirral ‘Independent Group’ set up, taking 5 of Labour’s Councillors with it, this combined with Labour having some tricky defences makes this year’s election all to play for.

Labour is defending 12 seats this May, a net loss of just one will put the Council into No Overall Control, with 3 of these defences certainly on the line, however, Labour is hoping for gains from independent Councillors. First off in the Constituency of Wirral West, Labour is hoping to see off a challenge from The Conservatives in the traditional marginal of Pensby and Thingwall. Labour held the seat last year by just 23 votes, the Conservatives are certainly fighting hard, however, rumours are circling that traditional Conservative voters are not motivated to turnout and vote, because of dissatisfaction with Theresa May. Meanwhile, in Birkenhead, Labour has 2 key defences and with the defection of Labour Councillors in Wirral, Labour is also hoping for some gains this year. Starting off in the seat of Oxton, Labour won this seat in 2015 on a General Election year, however, Labour’s incumbent Councillor has quit the party and is not seeking re-election, so Labour is hoping to regain this seat, but working against Labour are the Liberal Democrats, also eying a gain here. Oxton has been a traditional Liberal Democrat stronghold, with the Party currently holding the other two seats in this ward, as there is no General Election in May to inflate Labour’s core vote turnout, this is an uphill battle for Labour. Meanwhile, with the failure to beat the only Green Councillor on Wirral in 2018 and the next seat up in the ward being that of the retiring Council Leader, who has chosen to stand down from politics this year, this makes the Greens optimistic about capturing the next seat in Birkenhead and Tranmere. The Greens are also putting a lot of effort into gaining Prenton from Labour, Labour saw off a Green threat last year by over 500 votes, however, this year, Prenton is awash with Green posters, making this seat certainly look more competitive this year than last. Finally, we come to the seat of Rock Ferry, a traditional safe Labour ward in normal circumstances, however, all 3 of Labour’s Councillors in this ward have turned independent, following local party conflict. The now Independent Rock Ferry Councillor Chris Meaden, who quit the party following her deselection by local members is seeking re-election with the full backing of ex-Labour, now independent MP for Birkenhead, Frank Field. Frank is a big name in the town and should Cllr Meaden hold this seat, then speculation of a Frank Field victory in the next General Election will begin in earnest.

A good night for Labour would see the Party regain Rock Ferry and hold onto Pensby and Prenton, maintaining the Party’s control of the Council. A bad night would see the Party lose Prenton to the Greens and should the Party fail to gain Rock Ferry, then it will be a disaster for Labour, giving a boost to Wirral’s very own TIG. Meanwhile, if Labour are having an extraordinarily good night, then the Party would also add Birkenhead & Tranmere to their list of successful defences, whilst maybe even gaining Oxton. A good night for the other parties on Wirral would be each gaining one seat. The Conservatives, however, have a lot on the line, having failed to gain anything since 2012, a repeat failure to capture Pensby, would be bad news for the local Conservative Leader, who this year faces his second election at the helm of the local Party.

Labour are hoping to keep Wirral red, but given the constantly moving state of Wirral politics, this is looking all the more precarious.

Liverpool City Council Preview

Hopping on the ferry from Wirral, crossing the Mersey, we arrive in Liverpool, a city with strong Labour dominance where jokes of ‘weighing Labour votes’ are plentiful. This year, Labour is defending all but 2 of the seats up for election, however, unlike Wirral, overall control of the Council is not at stake, even if Labour lost every seat it was defending this May. Alas, most wards are not even competitive, especially in the north of the city, where Labour has only one tough defence, the seat of Tuebrook and Stoneycroft, the political home of Cllr Steve Radford, a popular Councillor in the ward and the Leader of the continuation of the Liberal Party, who rejected merger of the Liberals and SDP to form the Liberal Democrats. The Liberals, having been boosted by their successful defence of the ward last year, are now looking to regain from Labour the seat they lost in 2015 in a surprise Labour victory. Labour, shocked at the scale of their defeat here last year are not putting up much of fight and with the absence of a General Election to inflate Labour voter turnout, this ward looks like a long shot for the Labour Party.

Jumping the bus now, down from Tuebrook, past the city centre, into the south of the city, we arrive in the ward of Childwall, a seat Labour lost in a shock defeat last year to Cllr Carole Storey, the wife of former Lib Dem Council Leader, Lord Storey. Labour is hoping to see off another strong Liberal Democrat challenge, whilst also defending the last Labour seat in Woolton, in which the incumbent Labour Councillor has decided to take the fight to the Liberal Democrats rather than standing down. Labour, boosted by their successful defence of Mossley Hill last year, from the Liberal Democrats are looking again to defend this seat, this time from a new Lib Dem challenger, who isn’t putting up as much of a fight as the last one. Labour, is also seeking to hold the seat of Allerton Hunts Cross, which they narrowly defended last May, another defence of Allerton this year would be good news for the Party and would be a stepping stone for Labour, who next year are looking to reclaim the seat they lost in the ward back in 2016. It’s not all defensive though for Labour, the Party is also hoping that their student candidate in Church Ward will be able to defeat local Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Richard Kemp. This would be a major victory for Labour, however, the Party lost their only Councillor in the ward last May, meaning they will have their work cut out to overturn the strong Liberal Democrat vote here.

Travelling from Church Ward, we cross over the boundary that runs down the middle of Penny Lane into Greenbank Ward, where we find the City’s Greens, who having defended their only Councillor in Greenbank last year, are looking to maintain their momentum and gain another seat in this ward. The Greens, however, face an uphill battle against two entrenched, popular Labour Councillors. Just next door to Greenbank, the Greens are hoping to defend St. Michaels Ward, having soundly seen off a Labour challenge in 2018, the Greens face limited opposition in their bastion of St. Michaels.

Ultimately, a good night for Labour in Liverpool would see the Party hold onto Allerton Hunts Cross, Greenbank, Mossley Hill and Childwall, an ok night for the Party would be just holding Allerton, Mossley Hill and Greenbank. A bad night for Labour would see the Party only defending Mossley Hill and Greenbank out of the competitive seats. On the flip side, if Labour are having an extraordinarily good night, then the Party will easily hold Allerton, Mossley Hill, Greenbank, Childwall and Woolton, with maybe a gain in Church Ward as well. If the Liberal Democrats are having a bad night they would only gain Woolton and defend Church. On a good night, the Lib Dems can expect to add Childwall to their pick ups, an extraordinary night would see the Party gain Allerton and maybe even Mossley Hill. If the Lib Dems can’t gain both Woolton and hold onto Church Ward, then the Party is having a very very bad night, a loss in Church would send shock waves through Liverpool politics. The Greens and Liberals, however, will be having a good night by just defending St. Michaels and gaining Tuebrook respectively, any other potential gains would be simply incredible. Will Brexit play a role in any of the seats in the city, where the Remain vote was fairly strong? Who knows, one thing does remain certain however, that despite some strong challenges, Labour certainly remains dominant in Liverpool politics by far.

Image: Liverpool Town Hall. Picture: Terry Kearney, via a (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence

About the author

Tom Laing is a student of politics at the University of Liverpool and an amateur psephologist who occasionally blogs and tweets about his passion for elections @TomLaing14.