Will they, won’t they? Looking ahead to the 2021 local elections

Written by

Bob Ward


As we enter 2021, us politicos have started to look ahead to May and the local elections that are still currently planned to go ahead.

With last year’s elections postponed, 2021 includes a raft of important elections which could change the face of local government in the region.

Voters will be asked to elect everything from city, town, district and county councillors, to Metro Mayors and Police & Crime Commissioners. This will be the first electoral test for Keir Starmer’s Labour party and will also indicate the public’s mood towards Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and their performance in dealing with the ongoing pandemic.

It is entirely possible that the local elections will be delayed again but rather than pushing them back to 2022, BECG expects them to be postponed for a few months until the early autumn.

We’ve gazed into our crystal ball and taken a look at the flashpoints to watch across the North West:

Starting with our HQ, Greater Manchester…

Elections to MCC are in thirds and so May will see more councillors than usual up for election across Manchester. Whilst in theory this means that Manchester’s Labour Group could be put under greater pressure in some wards, in reality it is improbable that there will be any real upsets on election night in the city.

It is likely to be a similar story around the corner from the town hall at Churchgate House where Andy Burnham will be successfully re-elected having won many plaudits for his campaigning during the pandemic.

Elsewhere in the city region all eyes will be on Stockport, Bury and Bolton to see which way the votes fall and the impact this could have on pan-Greater Manchester issues like GMSF.  Don’t be surprised if we see some political upsets in these boroughs.

Moving along the River Mersey to Liverpool…

Changes are afoot for Liverpool City Council, which has been getting used to life after Joe Anderson. Anderson-supporter Wendy Simon has taken up the reigns for time being.

The tussle for Mayor will be between Wendy Simon, Anderson-challenger Ann O’Byrne and the more-conciliatory Barry Kushner, who is currently in the Cabinet for Housing & Regeneration Projects.

Whatever the outcome here, they will have to work closely with Steve Rotheram, who is expected to romp home as Liverpool City Region’s Metro Mayor.

And if that wasn’t enough for voters on Merseyside, they will also be voting for a new Police & Crime Commissioner too.

Heading northwards to Cumbria…

Voters in Cumbria will be selecting councillors for all parishes, districts and the county council too. And like Liverpool, Cumbria will also be choosing a Police & Crime Commissioner.

The key for Cumbria is the ongoing discussions to reorganise its local authorities, which could supersede the 2021 elections. The plans are still up in the air; the options are to split the six district and one county council either into two unitary authorities – split north/south – along with a Metro Mayor, or to create one single, unitary authority.

It appears that the district councils prefer the former plan, whilst the county council prefers the latter. Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale, used an Urgent Question this week to ask that reorganisation plans are shelved until the pandemic is brought under control.

Watch this space…

Moving back down to Cheshire…

Warrington will be having ‘all-out’ elections in May with the ruling Labour group keen to ensure that they retain their grip on power and do not suffer any fallout from a controversial Local Plan and high-profile Green Belt planning decisions.  The success of Andy Carter MP in Warrington South suggests that Labour could lose some ground in the south of the borough where traditionally the Lib Dems have been strong at a local level.

Voters in Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester will only have to decide on respective Police & Crime Commissioners. But there are potentially important by-elections for both authorities too.With Cheshire East ruled by a Labour-Independent minority, Labour will be determined to retain the one vacant seat in Crewe West. For Cheshire West & Chester, there are vacancies in Frodsham and Neston. The latter is key here; the untimely death of Cllr Andy Williams means Labour now does not have control of CWAC – something they will want to regain by retaining Neston in any future by-election.

And across to Lancashire…

Where there are murmurings similar to Cumbria, withtalks to replace the region’s districts and county councils with three unitary authorities, along with an overarching combined authority led by a Metro Mayor. The three major parties in the county are all split on the matter – the Conservatives are for reorganisation; Labour reluctantly support it; and the Lib Dems oppose the changes.

Besides this, there is no great change expected in 2021.

And finally, over the border into North Wales…

Where the entire Welsh Assembly is up for election. With pandemic rules differing across the UK, Wales has found a new zeal for the power of devolution.

Whilst the pandemic means voters may perhaps be more engaged, it ties up Welsh Labour’s performance at the polls with the way the Assembly tackles the current health crisis.

There appeared to be widespread support for the Assembly’s early actions, but this has since dampened following the ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown and rules such as restricting the sale of alcohol. Indeed, both Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price and the Conservatives’ Paul Davies have started criticising Mark Drakeford in public more frequently.

Whatever happens, we will be monitoring the ever-evolving landscape with intrigue.

If you need help understanding the political landscape across the North West or would like to discuss this topic further, please do not hesitate to contact with Bob Ward.

This article first appeared on Place North West’s website. You can view it here.


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