The Liberal Democrats bolstered their case for taking the reins at Stockport town hall after pulling further ahead of Labour in another strong local election showing.
While the council remains under ‘no overall control’, the Lib Dems now have 28 elected councillors – three more than Labour – after defeating the Tories in both Bramhall wards.
Labour remained at the helm last year, despite having one fewer councillor than the Lib Dems, thanks to opposition groups refusing to remove Coun Elise Wilson as leader.
Who runs the council over the next 12 months will depend on what deals can be done behind the scenes over the next few days.
But it could be difficult for the Tories – now down to five councillors – Greens and independents to stand in the Lib Dems’ way again, after they further increased their numerical advantage.
‘Issues on the doorstep’
Lib Dem group leader Coun Mark Hunter described it as a ‘very good night for the Liberal Democrats and a very bad night for the Conservatives’ – not forgetting to note that the result ‘increases the gap between us and Labour as the largest party’.
And he believes his group has a yet stronger claim for running the council over the coming municipal year.
“Don’t forget we were the largest party last year, the only reason we have had a further year of Labour is because they were propped up by the Conservatives,” he said.
“That was an issue on the doorstep. We met plenty of Conservative voters who were not impressed by their councillors voting to keep Labour in office.”
However, he acknowledged that the Tories had suffered locally because of dissatisfaction with the government, adding that decent Conservative voters were ‘completely disenfranchised with the sleaze and shenanigans at Westminster’.
He continued: “I would say the key to our success has been a focus on community issues and a reputation for working hard for the communities we represent all year round.”
Asked whether he now expected his group to form an administration for the first time since 2016, he said: “There will be conversations over the weekend – we don’t intend to let the grass grow under our feet,”
While Labour remains static on 25 councillors, holding Cheadle Hulme North was a big result for them – as was making a gain in Stepping Hill for the second year running.
More disappointingly for Coun Elise Wilson’s group was a second consecutive defeat to the Greens in Reddish South, while Joe Barratt wasn’t quite able to get over the line in Bredbury and Woodley.
However, Coun Wilson was in upbeat mood after the count. She said: “We have seen our votes increasing across the borough. I think that shows we have a vision in Stockport – you can see it happening – and you can see the people of Stockport recognising that.”
While Coun Wilson says the question of who runs the council this year will be ‘worked out over the next few days’, there was a hint that change could be in the air.
“Whoever leads that council is going to always have to pull together cross party support,” she said. “You have to be able to build consensus.
“That’s something I believe in strongly, it makes it better in the long run, really.”
Like Coun Hunter, she attributed the Conservatives’ woes to the controversies surrounding the government and the growing ‘cost of living crisis’.
For Conservative group leader Mike Hurlestone, it was also an inescapable conclusion.
“The three councillors we were hoping to see re-elected, I think, were victims of what’s happening nationally and protest votes, rather than anything they have done in their track record as councillors,” he said.
“That has been the situation, and I guess that’s what we have been hearing a little bit on the doorstep – it was not a complete surprise.”
However, he took some solace in the fact next year will be an ‘all out’ election in Stockport – and an opportunity for the Tories to rebuild their numbers.
Elsewhere, the Greens pulled off a shock result in Reddish South, making a gain at Labour’s expense for the second year running.
Liz Crix becomes only the second Green Party councillor in Stockport’s history, emulating Gary Lawson’s victory 12 months ago. But she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she hoped not to be the last.
“We want to get bigger and bigger,” she said
Coun Crix attributed the Greens’ recent success in the ward to their ‘year round hard work’.
“We like to keep in touch with the residents, both through our newsletter and also we do a lot of door-knocking,” she said.
“I have also been doing ward work for the last few years – glamorous stuff like litter picking – but also sorting out residents’ issues.”
The political makeup of Stockport council following the local elections is now as follows:
Liberal Democrats 28 (+2)
Labour 25 (-)
Conservatives 5 (-3)
Green Party 2 (+1)